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Carcinogenesis. 1989 Feb;10(2):397-9.

The inhibition of bacterially mediated N-nitrosation by vitamin C: relevance to the inhibition of endogenous N-nitrosation in the achlorhydric stomach.

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  • 1PHLS-CAMR, Porton Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK.


It has been suggested that endogenously formed N-nitroso compounds are involved in the aetiology of gastric cancer. In the model of gastric carcinogenesis postulated by Correa, gastric atrophy is an important early stage in the progression to carcinoma which results in the loss of stomach acidity, and colonization of the stomach by bacteria. As a consequence of the metabolic activity of these bacteria intragastric nitrite (a precursor to N-nitroso compounds) and possibly carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds become elevated, which may hasten the progression to carcinoma. Vitamin C has been shown to be an effective inhibitor of acid-catalysed N-nitroso compound formation, in vivo and in vitro, and this has been attributed to its relatively rapid reaction with nitrite in contrast to the slower rates of reaction of nitrite with secondary amines. However, N-nitroso compound formation in the achlorhydric stomach must proceed by mechanisms which operate at neutral pH values. One potential mechanism involves the enzymatic catalysis of N-nitrosation by a subpopulation of the bacteria colonizing the achlorhydric stomach which catalyse these reactions and in particular denitrifying organisms. In this study, we examined the effect of vitamin C on the formation of N-nitrosomorpholine from morpholine and nitrite when mediated by cells of an actively N-nitrosating denitrifying bacterium (Pseudomonas aeruginosa, BM1030) at neutral pH. Despite the fact that vitamin C ordinarily shows little reactivity towards nitrite at neutral pH it did prove to be a potent inhibitor of bacterial N-nitrosamine formation. This study provides some justification for the use of vitamin C as an inhibitor of endogenous N-nitrosation regardless of gastric pH.

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