Pulmonary alveolar macrophages in molecular epidemiology and chemoprevention of cancer

S. De Flora, A. Izzotti, F. D'Agostini, G. A. Rossi, R. M. Balansky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In addition to possessing an extraordinary sweeping activity, pulmonary alveolar macrophages (PAM) are equipped with the biochemical mechanisms involved in the metabolism of carcinogens, which were found to be inducible in humans by cigarette smoke. Moreover, several defense processes were stimulated in rat PAM after in vivo administration of the anticarcinogen N-acetylcysteine (NAC). Benzo[a]pyrene diol epoxide (BPDE)-DNA adducts, as revealed by synchronous fluorescence spectrophotometry, were selectively detected in PAM of smokers and persisted up to 6 months. The amount of adducts was significantly correlated with the number of currently smoked cigarettes but not with the cigarettes smoked in a lifetime (pack-years). Nevertheless, deviations from the regression line pointed out the role of interindividual variability factors in adduct formation. Probably due to the low mitotic rate of PAM in the respiratory lumen, the frequency of micronuclei was not enhanced in smokers. However, parallel assays in rats showed that micronuclei can be enhanced after massive intratracheal administration of benzo[a]pyrene or whole-body exposure to high amounts of mainstream cigarette smoke, which also induced BPDE-DNA adducts in lung cells and other organs, including the heart. All these adverse effects were markedly inhibited by the oral administration of NAC, which provides the premise and rationale for a future study on the protective effects of oral NAC in heavy smokers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-252
Number of pages4
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Publication statusPublished - 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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