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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hydroxychloroquine induces oxidative DNA damage and mutation in mammalian cells


Since the early stages of the pandemic, hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a widely used drug with good safety profile in clinic, has come to the forefront of research on drug repurposing for COVID-19 treatment/prevention. Despite the decades-long use of HCQ in the treatment of diseases, such as malaria and autoimmune disorders, the exact mechanisms of action of this drug are only beginning to be understood. To date, no data are available on the genotoxic potential of HCQ in vitro or in vivo. The present study is the first investigation of the DNA damaging- and mutagenic effects of HCQ in mammalian cells in vitro, at concentrations that are comparable to clinically achievable doses in patient populations. We demonstrate significant induction of a representative oxidative DNA damage (8-oxodG) in primary mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) treated with HCQ at 5 and 25 μM concentrations (P = 0.020 and P = 0.029, respectively), as determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Furthermore, we show significant mutagenicity of HCQ, manifest as 2.2- and 1.8-fold increases in relative cII mutant frequency in primary and spontaneously immortalized Big Blue® MEFs, respectively, treated with 25 μM dose of this drug (P = 0.005 and P = 0.012, respectively). The observed genotoxic effects of HCQ in vitro, achievable at clinically relevant doses, are novel and important, and may have significant implications for safety monitoring in patient populations. Given the substantial number of the world's population receiving HCQ for the treatment of various chronic diseases or in the context of clinical trials for COVID-19, our findings warrant further investigations into the biological consequences of therapeutic/preventive use of this drug.

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