Mercapturic acids as biomarkers of exposure to electrophilic chemicals: applications to environmental and industrial chemicals.

B.M. de Rooij, J.N.M. Commandeur, N.P.E. Vermeulen

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The use of mercapturic acids (N-acetyl-L-cysteine S-conjugates, MAs) in the biological monitoring of human exposure to environmental and industrial chemicals is receiving more and more attention. Mercapturic acids (MAs) are formed from glutathione (GSH) S-conjugates via the MA-pathway. Although this pathway can lead to different end-products, the formation of MAs is the predominant route in most species, including man. Two GSH S-transferases (GSTs) show genetic polymorphisms in humans and this can have major consequences for individual susceptibility to toxic effects and for MA formation. In occupational toxicology, adducts to biomacromolecules are also used as biomarkers. DNA adducts are a measure for the effective dose, while protein adducts are related to the dose at critical site. Both type of adducts are normally determined in blood, while MAs are determined in urine. Most MAs are excreted with relatively short half-lifes, allowing a direct evaluation of the occupational circumstances. For many compounds similar (linear) dose-dependency was found for MA excretion, formation of macromolecular adducts, and for various biomarkers of toxic effects. These relations together with fact that MAs relate to the electrophilic character of compounds, allows for the conclusion that MAs are biomarkers of toxicologically relevant internal doses of chemicals or their metabolites. An overview will be given here of the use of MAs in the assessment of internal human exposure to electrophilic environmental and industrial chemicals. Additionally, the formation of GSH S-conjugates, their catabolism to MAs and several of the frequently used analytical approaches are discussed. When appropriate, the influence of genetic polymorphisms on formation of MAs and on susceptibility to toxicity will be discussed for different chemicals as well.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-303
Publication statusPublished - 1998


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