Does the recommended lymphocyte cytokinesis-block micronucleus assay for human biomonitoring actually detect DNA damage induced by occupational and environmental exposure to genotoxic chemicals?

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This commentary challenges the paradigm that the cytokinesis-block micronucleus assay (CBMN assay) with cultured human lymphocytes, as it is performed currently, is a sensitive and useful tool for detecting genotoxic effects in populations exposed occupationally or environmentally to genotoxic chemicals. Based on the principle of the assay and the available data, increased micronucleus (MN) frequencies in binucleated cells (BNC) are mainly due to MN produced in vitro during the cultivation period (i.e. MN produced in vivo do not substantially contribute to the MN frequency measured in BNC). The sensitivity of the assay for the detection of induced MN in BNC after an in vivo exposure to a genotoxic chemical is limited because cytochalasin B (Cyt-B) is added relatively late during the culture period and, therefore, the BNC that are scored do not always represent cells that have completed one cell cycle only. Furthermore, this delay means that damaged cells can be eliminated by apoptosis and/or that DNA damage induced in vivo can be repaired prior to the production of a MN in the presence of Cyt-B. A comparison with the in vitro CBMN assay used for genotoxicity testing leads to the conclusion that it is highly unlikely that DNA damage induced in vivo is the cause for increased MN frequencies in BNC after occupational or environmental exposure to genotoxic chemicals. This commentary casts doubt on the usefulness of the CBMN assay as an indicator of genotoxicity in human biomonitoring and questions the relevance of many published data for hazard identification and risk assessment. Thus, it seems worthwhile to reconsider the use of the CBMN assay as presently conducted for the detection of genotoxic exposure in human biomonitoring.

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