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Mutat Res. 1998 Jun 18;402(1-2):321-9.

Janus carcinogens and mutagens.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


Janus carcinogens are carcinogenic agents that, under differing conditions of cell type or dose, can instead act as anticarcinogens. Studies by Haseman and Johnson [J.K. Haseman, F.M. Johnson, Analysis of rodent NTP bioassay data for anticarcinogenic effects, Mutat. Res. , 350 (1996) 131-142], have demonstrated that many chemicals that are carcinogenic for one tissue type can have anticarcinogenic action on another tissue type. As Magni et al. [G.E. Magni, R.C. von Borstel, S. Sora, Mutagenic action during meiosis and antimutagenic action during mitosis by 5-aminoacridine in yeast, Mutat. Res., 1 (1964) 227-230] have shown in 1964, this principle holds true for chemical mutagens as well, that is 9-aminoacridine is an antimutagen in the vegetative cell and a mutagen in the sporulating cell. The conclusion can be drawn that two established carcinogens, tobacco and ionizing radiation, are indeed Janus carcinogens. In their review of 'ambiguous carcinogens' (their name), Weinberg and Storer [A.M. Weinberg, J.B. Storer, Ambiguous carcinogens and their regulation, Risk Anal., 5 (1985) 151-156], pointed out that tobacco can be classified as an ambiguous carcinogen. The strong carcinogenicity and anticarcinogenicity of tobacco smoke and/or tobacco itself (i.e., chewing tobacco) may be due to components in the mixture, not that of a single carcinogenic chemical that also may be anticarcinogenic. Kondo [S. Kondo, Health Effects of Low-Level Radiation, Kinki Univ. Press, Osaka, Japan and Medical Physics Publishing, Madison, WI, 1995, 213 pp.] has compiled data that demonstrate that human populations who survive exposures to ionizing radiation generally live longer and have less cancer than unirradiated human populations, and this Janus phenomenon goes beyond the more trivial concept of increased sensitivity to radiation of rapidly dividing tumor cells. Thiabendazole is an interesting compound in that it is both aneugenic and antimutagenic, and yet it does not appear to be a carcinogen or a mutagen. It is discussed here because aneugenesis and antimutagenesis are at extremes of the mutagenic spectrum. In general, mutagenic or carcinogenic actions usually are at least partially understood at a molecular level, whereas antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic actions usually are not. It is possible there may be numerous specific mechanisms underlying the Janus activity of different chemicals.

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