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Chem Res Toxicol. 2011 Nov 21;24(11):1924-36. doi: 10.1021/tx200273z. Epub 2011 Sep 12.

Polyamines are traps for reactive intermediates in furan metabolism.

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Division of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.


Furan is toxic and carcinogenic in rodents. Because of the large potential for human exposure, furan is classified as a possible human carcinogen. The detailed mechanism by which furan causes toxicity and cancer is not yet known. Since furan toxicity requires cytochrome P450-catalyzed oxidation of furan, we have characterized the urinary and hepatocyte metabolites of furan to gain insight into the chemical nature of the reactive intermediate. Previous studies in hepatocytes indicated that furan is oxidized to the reactive α,β-unsaturated dialdehyde, cis-2-butene-1,4-dial (BDA), which reacts with glutathione (GSH) to form 2-(S-glutathionyl)succinaldehyde (GSH-BDA). This intermediate forms pyrrole cross-links with cellular amines such as lysine and glutamine. In this article, we demonstrate that GSH-BDA also forms cross-links with ornithine, putrescine, and spermidine when furan is incubated with rat hepatocytes. The relative levels of these metabolites are not completely explained by hepatocellular levels of the amines or by their reactivity with GSH-BDA. Mercapturic acid derivatives of the spermidine cross-links were detected in the urine of furan-treated rats, which indicates that this metabolic pathway occurs in vivo. Their detection in furan-treated hepatocytes and in urine from furan-treated rats indicates that polyamines may play an important role in the toxicity of furan.

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