Genetic polymorphisms and micronucleus formation: A review of the literature

G. Iarmarcovai, S. Bonassi, A. Botta, R. A. Baan, T. Orsière

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The formation of micronuclei (MN) is extensively used in molecular epidemiology as a biomarker of chromosomal damage, genome instability, and eventually of cancer risk. The occurrence of MN represents an integrated response to chromosome-instability phenotypes and altered cellular viabilities caused by genetic defects and/or exogenous exposures to genotoxic agents. The present article reviews human population studies addressing the relationship between genetic polymorphisms and MN formation, and provides insight into how genetic variants could modulate the effect of environmental exposures to genotoxic agents, host factors (gender, age), lifestyle characteristics (smoking, alcohol, folate), and diseases (coronary artery disease, cancer). Seventy-two studies measuring MN frequency either in peripheral blood lymphocytes or exfoliated cells were retrieved after an extensive search of the MedLine/PubMed database. The effect of genetic polymorphisms on MN formation is complex, influenced to a different extent by several polymorphisms of proteins or enzymes involved in xenobiotic metabolism, DNA repair proteins, and folate-metabolism enzymes. This heterogeneity reflects the presence of multiple external and internal exposures, and the large number of chromosomal alterations eventually resulting in MN formation. Polymorphisms of EPHX, GSTT1, and GSTM1 are of special importance in modulating the frequency of chromosomal damage in individuals exposed to genotoxic agents and in unexposed populations. Variants of ALDH2 genes are consistently associated with MN formation induced by alcohol drinking. Carriers of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations (with or without breast cancer) show enhanced sensitivity to clastogens. Some evidence further suggests that DNA repair (XRCC1 and XRCC3) and folate-metabolism genes (MTHFR) also influence MN formation. As some of the findings are based on relatively small numbers of subjects, larger scale studies are required that include scoring of additional endpoints (e.g., MN in combination with fluorescent in situ hybridization, analysis of nucleoplasmic bridges and nuclear buds), and address gene-gene interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-233
Number of pages19
JournalMutation Research - Reviews in Mutation Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008


  • Biological markers
  • Cytokinesis-blocked micronucleus assay
  • Exposure
  • Molecular epidemiology
  • Polymorphism
  • Smoking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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