Stimulated human phagocytes produce sister chromatid exchanges in cultured mammalian cells by a mechanism involving oxygen metabolites. Experiments were designed to determine whether antioxidants inhibit this process. Superoxide dismutase, catalase, and hydroxyl radical scavengers (benzoate, mannitol) protected target Chinese hamster ovary cells from phagocyte-induced sister chromatid exchanges, implicating the involvement of hydroxyl radicals in this chromosomal damage. N-acetylcysteine and β-carotene were also protective. α-Tocopherol (>5 μM) protected target cells exposed to phagocytes but not to enzymatically generated oxidants when the vitamin was added just before the source of oxygen radicals, suggesting, as reported by others, that the principal action of tocopherol in this setting was to inhibit the release of oxidants from phagocytes. On the other hand, cultivation of target cells with supplemental tocopherol protected them from the toxic effects of the enzymatic oxidant-producing system, indicating a role for membrane-associated free radicals in the mechanism of sister chromatid exchange induction. Low concentrations of sodium selenite (0.1-1.0 μM) protected the target cells. However, higher concentrations (10 μM) of selenite had no effect on oxidant-induced sister chromatid exchange formation, and 0.1 mM selenite increased the number of exchanges. Sodium selenite concentrations of 0.1 mM also decreased the intracellular glutathione concentration of target cells during an oxidant stress, and reducing target cell glutathione concentrations with buthionine sulfoximine increased their sensitivity to oxygen-related chromosomal damage. Therefore, the potentiation of oxygen radical-induced chromosomal damage observed with high concentrations of selenite may result from a decrease in the thiol antioxidant defense systems within the cell. The findings suggest that (a) the hydroxyl radical has an important role in the production of phagocyte-induced cytogenetic injury, (b) membrane-derived intermediates may be involved, (c) depletion of intracellular glutathione renders cells more susceptible to this injury, and (d) supplementation of target cells with antioxidants can protect them from oxygen radical-generated chromosomal injury.
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