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Mutat Res. 2002 Jul;511(3):191-206.

Carcinogenicity of the aromatic amines: from structure-activity relationships to mechanisms of action and risk assessment.

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  • 1Laboratory of Comparative Toxicology and Ecotoxicology, Istituto Superiore di Sanita', Viale Regina Elena 299, 00161, Rome, Italy.


Aromatic amines represent one of the most important classes of industrial and environmental chemicals: many of them have been reported to be powerful carcinogens and mutagens, and/or hemotoxicants. Their toxicity has been studied also with quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) methods: these studies are potentially suitable for investigating mechanisms of action and for estimating the toxicity of compounds lacking experimental determinations. In this paper, we first summarized the QSAR models for the rodent carcinogenicity of the aromatic amines. The gradation of potency of the carcinogenic amines depended firstly on their hydrophobicity, and secondly on electronic (reactivity, propensity to be metabolically transformed) and steric properties. On the contrary, the difference between carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic aromatic amines depended mainly on electronic and steric properties. These QSARs can be used directly for estimating the carcinogenicity of aromatic amines. A two-step prediction is possible: (1) estimation of yes/no activity; (2) if the answer from step 1 is yes, then prediction of the degree of potency. The QSARs for rodent carcinogenicity were put in a wider context by comparing them with those for: (a) Salmonella mutagenicity; (b) general toxicity; (c) enzymatic reactions; (d) physical-chemical reactions. This comparative QSAR exercise generated a coherent global picture of the action mechanisms of the aromatic amines. The QSARs for carcinogenicity were similar to those for Salmonella mutagenicity, thus pointing to a similar mechanism of action. On the contrary, the general toxicity QSARs (both in vitro and in vivo systems) were mostly based on hydrophobicity, pointing to an aspecific mechanism of action much simpler than that for carcinogenicity and mutagenicity. The oxidation of the amines (first step in the main metabolic pathway leading to carcinogenic and mutagenic species) had identical QSARs in both enzymatic and physical-chemical systems, thus providing evidence for the link between simple chemical reactions and those in biological systems. The results show that it is possible to generate mechanistically and statistically sound QSAR models for rodent carcinogenicity, and indirectly that the rodent bioassay is a reliable source of good quality data.

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