Seven benzimidazole pesticides combined at sub-threshold levels induce micronuclei in vitro

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Benzimidazoles act by disrupting microtubule polymerisation and are capable of inducing the formation of micronuclei. Considering the similarities in their mechanisms of action (inhibition of microtubule assembly by binding to the colchicine-binding site on tubulin monomers), combination effects according to the principles of concentration addition might occur. If so, it is to be expected that several benzimidazoles contribute to micronucleus formation even when each single one is present at or below threshold levels. This would have profound implications for risk assessment, but the idea has never been tested rigorously. To fill this gap, we analysed micronucleus frequencies for seven benzimidazoles, including the fungicide benomyl, its metabolite carbendazim, the anthelmintics albendazole, albendazole oxide, flubendazole, mebendazole and oxibendazole. Thiabendazole was also tested but was inactive. We used the cytochalasin-blocked micronucleus assay with CHO-K1 cells according to OECD guidelines, and employed an automated micronucleus scoring system based on image analysis to establish quantitative concentration–response relationships for the seven active benzimidazoles. Based on this information, we predicted additive combination effects for a mixture of the seven benzimidazoles by using the concepts of concentration addition and independent action. The observed effects of the mixture agreed very well with those predicted by concentration addition. Independent action underestimated the observed combined effects by a large margin. With a mixture that combined all benzimidazoles at their estimated threshold concentrations for micronucleus induction, micronucleus frequencies of ~15.5% were observed, correctly anticipated by concentration addition. On the basis of independent action, this mixture was expected to produce no effects. Our data provide convincing evidence that concentration addition is applicable to combinations of benzimidazoles that form micronuclei by disrupting microtubule polymerisation. They present a rationale for grouping these chemicals together for the purpose of cumulative risk assessment.

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