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Mutat Res. 1994 Dec;318(3):205-26.

DNA damage and mutagenesis induced by nitrogen mustards.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond 23298.


The nitrogen mustards are bifunctional alkylating agents which, although used extensively in cancer chemotherapy, are themselves highly carcinogenic. All nitrogen mustards induce monofunctional guanine-N7 adducts, as well as interstrand N7-N7 crosslinks involving the two guanines in GNC.GNC (5'-->3'/5'-->3') sequences. In addition, the aromatic mustards melphalan and chlorambucil also induce substantial alkylation at adenine N3, while cyclophosphamide forms phosphotriesters with relatively high frequency. Nitrogen mustards are genotoxic in virtually every assay, and produce a wide array of mutations, including base substitutions at both G.C and A.T base pairs, intragenic as well as multilocus deletions, and chromosomal rearrangements. Mutational spectra generated by these agents in various model systems vary widely, and no single lesion has been implicated as being primarily responsible for mustard-induced mutagenesis. On the contrary, adducts of both adenine and guanine, and monofunctional as well as bifunctional adducts, appear to be involved. Further, it is still not known which types of mutation are responsible for mustard-induced cancers, since no genes have yet been identified which are consistently altered in these malignancies.

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