Synthesis and in vitro characterization of the genotoxic, mutagenic and cell-transforming potential of nitrosylated heme
Data from epidemiological studies suggest that consumption of red and processed meat is a factor contributing to colorectal carcinogenesis. Red meat contains high amounts of heme, which in turn can be converted to its nitrosylated form, NO-heme, when adding nitrite-containing curing salt to meat. NO-heme might contribute to colorectal cancer formation by causing gene mutations and could thereby be responsible for the association of (processed) red meat consumption with intestinal cancer. Up to now, neither in vitro nor in vivo studies characterizing the mutagenic and cell transforming potential of NO-heme have been published due to the fact that the pure compound is not readily available. Therefore, in the present study, an already existing synthesis protocol was modified to yield, for the first time, purified NO-heme. Thereafter, newly synthesized NO-heme was chemically characterized and used in various in vitro approaches at dietary concentrations to determine whether it can lead to DNA damage and malignant cell transformation. While NO-heme led to a significant dose-dependent increase in the number of DNA strand breaks in the comet assay and was mutagenic in the HPRT assay, this compound tested negative in the Ames test and failed to induce malignant cell transformation in the BALB/c 3T3 cell transformation assay. Interestingly, the non-nitrosylated heme control showed similar effects, but was additionally able to induce malignant transformation in BALB/c 3T3 murine fibroblasts. Taken together, these results suggest that it is the heme molecule rather than the NO moiety which is involved in driving red meat-associated carcinogenesis.