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Chem Res Toxicol. 2002 Aug;15(8):1106-12.

Lung toxicity and tumor promotion by hydroxylated derivatives of 2,6-di-tert-butyl-4-methylphenol (BHT) and 2-tert-butyl-4-methyl-6-iso-propylphenol: correlation with quinone methide reactivity.

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO 80262, USA.


Acute pulmonary toxicity and tumor promotion by the food additive 2,6-di-tert-butyl-4-methylphenol (BHT) in mice are well documented. These effects have been attributed to either of two quinone methides, 2,6-di-tert-butyl-4-methylenecyclohexa-2,5-dienone (BHT-QM) formed through direct oxidation of BHT by pulmonary cytochrome P450 or a quinone methide formed by hydroxylation of a tert-butyl group of BHT (to form BHTOH) followed by oxidation of this metabolite to BHTOH-QM. BHTOH-QM is a more reactive electrophile compared to BHT-QM due to intramolecular interactions of the side-chain hydroxyl with the carbonyl oxygen. To further examine this bioactivation pathway, an analogue of BHTOH was prepared, 2-tert-butyl-6-(1'-hydroxy-1'-methyl)ethyl-4-methylphenol (BPPOH), that is structurally very similar to BHTOH but forms a quinone methide (BPPOH-QM) capable of more efficient intramolecular hydrogen bonding and, therefore, higher electrophilicity than BHTOH-QM. BPPOH-QM was synthesized and its reactivity with water, methanol, and glutathione determined to be >10-fold higher than that of BHTOH-QM. The conversions of BPPOH and BHTOH to quinone methides in lung microsomes from male BALB/cByJ mice were quantitatively similar, but in vivo the former was pneumotoxic at one-half of the dose required for the latter and one-eighth of the dose required for BHT, as determined by increased lung weight:body weight ratios following a single i.p. injection. Similar differences were found in the doses of BHT, BHTOH, or BPPOH required for tumor promotion after a single initiating dose of 3-methylcholanthrene followed by three weekly injections of the phenol. The downregulaton of calpain II, previously shown to accompany lung tumor promotion by BHT and BHTOH, also occurred with BPPOH. The correlation between biologic activities of these phenols and the reactivities of their corresponding quinone methides provides additional support for the role of BHTOH-QM as the principal metabolite responsible for the effects of BHT on mouse lung.

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