In the present study, the induction of sister chromatid exchanges (SCEs) and chromosomal aberrations were measured in normal human lymphocytes treated with low concentrations of arsenite alone (0.5-2.0 microM) and arsenite in combination with the potent DNA crosslinking agent diepoxybutane (DEB). Experiments were carried out with lymphocytes from blood donors with different sensitivities to SCE induction by DEB. Arsenite, beginning at concentrations as low as 1 microM, increased SCE frequencies; chromosomal aberration frequencies were increased at 2 microM of arsenite. DEB treatments alone increased SCE frequencies and chromosomal aberrations. The yields of chromatid deletions and exchanges in lymphocytes exposed to both arsenite and DEB were markedly increased above the levels expected if the effects of the two agents had been simply additive. The frequencies of chromatid deletions were 4- to 8-fold greater than expected and chromatid exchanges were increased 7- to 40-fold. Chromatid exchanges detected in cells treated with arsenite and DEB were predominately incomplete exchanges. The most dramatic increases in chromatid aberrations were observed in lymphocytes from an individual sensitive to SCE induction by DEB, indicating that individuals may vary in their sensitivity to the co-clastogenic effects of arsenite. At concentrations that dramatically affect aberrations, arsenite had no effect on the induction of SCEs by DEB. These studies suggest a specific interaction of arsenite with the induction or repair of DNA damage produced by DEB that leads to chromosomal aberrations but not to SCEs. Based on the selective chemical reactivity of low concentrations of arsenite with proteins containing vicinal dithiols and the occurrence of these groups within DNA repair proteins, it is proposed that the specific co-clastogenic effects of arsenite may be mediated by its interference with DNA repair activities.
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