Benzene, a constituent of cigarette smoke, is a human leukemogen and induces bone marrow toxicity. The mechanism of benzene-induced toxicity is not well-established. We hypothesized that relatively high levels of nitric oxide formed in bone marrow can react with oxygen and/or superoxide anion that is generated during redox cycling of ring-hydroxylated benzene metabolites to yield peroxynitrite as well as other NO-derived intermediates. Peroxynitrite can either directly damage cellular macromolecules or form nitrated toxic metabolites. Toward this end, we investigated whether nitro derivatives of benzene are formed in bone marrow of mice treated with benzene. First, we have characterized products formed during activation of benzene in Fenton's system in the absence or presence of NO-releasing compound in vitro by GC/MS. The result of above experiment prompted us to determine whether similar products can be formed in vivo. Groups of B6C3F1 male mice, eight weeks of age, were given a single intraperitoneal dose of [14C]benzene (400 mg/kg body wt, 9.7 mCi/mmol) or an equal dose of unlabeled benzene in corn oil, and the mice were killed 0.5 or 1 h posttreatment. The control group received only vehicle injections. Organic solvent extractable metabolites from bone marrow, liver, lungs, and blood of mice treated with [14C]benzene were identified by comparison of their respective retention times under two different HPLC conditions with authentic standard samples. These metabolites were further characterized by comparison of their GC/MS properties to those of reference standards. Nitro metabolites, namely, nitrobenzene, nitrobiphenyl, and nitrophenol isomers, were detected in the bone marrow of the mice 1 h after benzene treatment. Formation of nitro derivatives in other tissues was either not observed or was significantly less than that formed in bone marrow. This study clearly demonstrates that nitric oxide is a contributor to benzene metabolism and can form nitrated derivatives that may, in part, account for bone marrow toxicity.
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