Asbestos, proven to be carcinogenic in humans and animals, is reported to have no genotoxic effect. Asbestos workers have an increased risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other tumours. Earlier findings showed that crocidolite can induce DNA strand breaks in cultured rat embryo cells as assessed by nick translation.
We investigated DNA double-strand breaks in white blood cells (WBC) of ten workers occupationally exposed to asbestos. According to our results, obtained with neutral filter elution, individuals who had been exposed to asbestos fibres showed two to four times more DNA double-strand breaks (dsb) in white blood cells than ten non-exposed persons. The induced DNA fragments are of about 250 kb (compared to chromosomal DNA of Saccharomyces cerevisiae standard marker).
Using additionally the chromosomal DNA protective method of agarose-plugs, DNA fragments in the range of 200 to 1000 kb have been found in the white blood cells of the same ten workers occupationally exposed to asbestos. In the white blood cells of non-exposed subjects no DNA fragments could be detected with this method.
Compared to 51 non-exposed persons, elevated anti-ds DNA antibody concentrations were found in ten workers occupationally exposed to asbestos. The fact that workers occupationally exposed to asbestos have distinctly more double-strand breaks and anti-ds DNA antibodies could mean that an increased incidence of DNA-fragments may be an important indicator in the chronic effect of asbestos-associated carcinogenesis. Apparently, the chronic effects of asbestos observed here do not seem to be identical with that of previously reported acute in vitro effects.