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The mechanism of benzene-induced leukemia: a hypothesis and speculations on the causes of leukemia.

Abstract

An overall hypothesis for benzene-induced leukemia is proposed. Key components of the hypothesis include a) activation of benzene in the liver to phenolic metabolites; b) transport of these metabolites to the bone marrow and conversion to semiquinone radicals and quinones via peroxidase enzymes; c) generation of active oxygen species via redox cycling; d) damage to tubulin, histone proteins, topoisomerase II, other DNA associated proteins, and DNA itself; and e) consequent damage including DNA strand breakage, mitotic recombination, chromosome translocations, and aneuploidy. If these effects take place in stem or early progenitor cells a leukemic clone with selective advantage to grow may arise, as a result of protooncogene activation, gene fusion, and suppressor gene inactivation. Epigenetic effects of benzene metabolites on the bone marrow stroma, and perhaps the stem cell itself, may then foster development and survival of the leukemic clone. Evidence for this hypothesis is mounting with the recent demonstration that benzene induces gene-duplicating mutations in human bone marrow and chromosome-specific aneuploidy and translocations in peripheral blood cells. If this hypothesis is correct, it also potentially implicates phenolic and quinonoid compounds in the induction of "spontaneous" leukemia in man.

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