Environmental exposure to human carcinogens in teenagers and the association with DNA damage

Carmen Franken, Gudrun Koppen, Nathalie Lambrechts, Eva Govarts, Liesbeth Bruckers, Elly Den Hond, Ilse Loots, Vera Nelen, Isabelle Sioen, Tim Nawrot, Willy Baeyens, Nicolas Van Larebeke, Francis Boonen, Daniella Ooms, Mai Wevers, Griet Jacobs, Adrian Covaci, Thomas Schettgen, Greet Schoeters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Citations (Scopus)



We investigated whether human environmental exposure to chemicals that are labeled as (potential) carcinogens leads to increased (oxidative) damage to DNA in adolescents.

Material and methods

Six hundred 14–15-year-old youngsters were recruited all over Flanders (Belgium) and in two areas with important industrial activities. DNA damage was assessed by alkaline and formamidopyrimidine DNA glycosylase (Fpg) modified comet assays in peripheral blood cells and analysis of urinary 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) levels. Personal exposure to potentially carcinogenic compounds was measured in urine, namely: chromium, cadmium, nickel, 1-hydroxypyrene as a proxy for exposure to other carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), t,t-muconic acid as a metabolite of benzene, 2,5-dichlorophenol (2,5-DCP), organophosphate pesticide metabolites, and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) metabolites. In blood, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners 118 and 156, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) were analyzed. Levels of methylmercury (MeHg) were measured in hair. Multiple linear regression models were used to establish exposure-response relationships.


Biomarkers of exposure to PAHs and urinary chromium were associated with higher levels of both 8-OHdG in urine and DNA damage detected by the alkaline comet assay. Concentrations of 8-OHdG in urine increased in relation with increasing concentrations of urinary t,t-muconic acid, cadmium, nickel, 2,5-DCP, and DEHP metabolites. Increased concentrations of PFOA in blood were associated with higher levels of DNA damage measured by the alkaline comet assay, whereas DDT was associated in the same direction with the Fpg-modified comet assay. Inverse associations were observed between blood arsenic, hair MeHg, PCB 156 and HCB, and urinary 8-OHdG. The latter exposure biomarkers were also associated with higher fish intake. Urinary nickel and t,t-muconic acid were inversely associated with the alkaline comet assay.


This cross-sectional study found associations between current environmental exposure to (potential) human carcinogens in 14–15-year-old Flemish adolescents and short-term (oxidative) damage to DNA. Prospective follow-up will be required to investigate whether long-term effects may occur due to complex environmental exposures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-174
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Research
Early online date20 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


  • 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine (8-OHdG)
  • Carcinogen
  • Comet assay
  • DNA damage
  • Environmental exposure
  • Human biomonitoring


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