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Mass Spectrom Rev. 2009 Sep-Oct;28(5):725-84. doi: 10.1002/mas.20207.

Toward an "omic" physiopathology of reactive chemicals: thirty years of mass spectrometric study of the protein adducts with endogenous and xenobiotic compounds.

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Laboratory for Analytical Toxicology and Metabonomics, Department of Medicine, Surgery and Odontology, Università degli Studi di Milano at Ospedale San Paolo, v. Antonio di Rudinì 8, Milano I-20142, Italy.


Cancer and degenerative diseases are major causes of morbidity and death, derived from the permanent modification of key biopolymers such as DNA and regulatory proteins by usually smaller, reactive molecules, present in the environment or generated from endogenous and xenobiotic components by the body's own biochemical mechanisms (molecular adducts). In particular, protein adducts with organic electrophiles have been studied for more than 30 [see, e.g., Calleman et al., 1978] years essentially for three purposes: (a) as passive monitors of the mean level of individual exposure to specific chemicals, either endogenously present in the human body or to which the subject is exposed through food or environmental contamination; (b) as quantitative indicators of the mean extent of the individual metabolic processing which converts a non-reactive chemical substance into its toxic products able to damage DNA (en route to cancer induction through genotoxic mechanisms) or key proteins (as in the case of several drugs, pesticides or otherwise biologically active substances); (c) to relate the extent of protein modification to that of biological function impairment (such as enzyme inhibition) finally causing the specific health damage. This review describes the role that contemporary mass spectrometry-based approaches employed in the qualitative and quantitative study of protein-electrophile adducts play in the discovery of the (bio)chemical mechanisms of toxic substances and highlights the future directions of research in this field. A particular emphasis is given to the measurement of often high levels of the protein adducts of several industrial and environmental pollutants in unexposed human populations, a phenomenon which highlights the possibility that a number of small organic molecules are generated in the human organism through minor metabolic processes, the imbalance of which may be the cause of "spontaneous" cases of cancer and of other degenerative diseases of still uncharacterized etiology. With all this in mind, it is foreseen that a holistic description of cellular functions will take advantage of new analytical methods based on time-integrated metabolomic measurements of a new biological compartment, the "adductome," aimed at better understanding integrated organism response to environmental and endogenous stressors.

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