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J Inorg Biochem. 2002 Jul 25;91(1):246-52.

Depleted uranium-catalyzed oxidative DNA damage: absence of significant alpha particle decay.

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  • 1Applied Cellular Radiobiology Department, Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, 8901 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, MD 20889-5603, USA.


Depleted uranium (DU) is a dense heavy metal used primarily in military applications. Published data from our laboratory have demonstrated that DU exposure in vitro to immortalized human osteoblast cells (HOS) is both neoplastically transforming and genotoxic. DU possesses both a radiological (alpha particle) and a chemical (metal) component. Since DU has a low-specific activity in comparison to natural uranium, it is not considered to be a significant radiological hazard. In the current study we demonstrate that DU can generate oxidative DNA damage and can also catalyze reactions that induce hydroxyl radicals in the absence of significant alpha particle decay. Experiments were conducted under conditions in which chemical generation of hydroxyl radicals was calculated to exceed the radiolytic generation by one million-fold. The data showed that markers of oxidative DNA base damage, thymine glycol and 8-deoxyguanosine could be induced from DU-catalyzed reactions of hydrogen peroxide and ascorbate similarly to those occurring in the presence of iron catalysts. DU was 6-fold more efficient than iron at catalyzing the oxidation of ascorbate at pH 7. These data not only demonstrate that DU at pH 7 can induced oxidative DNA damage in the absence of significant alpha particle decay, but also suggest that DU can induce carcinogenic lesions, e.g. oxidative DNA lesions, through interaction with a cellular oxygen species.

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