Open Access Research article

Primary DNA damage and genetic polymorphisms for CYP1A1, EPHX and GSTM1 in workers at a graphite electrode manufacturing plant

Massimo Moretti1*, Marco Dell'Omo2, Milena Villarini1, Roberta Pastorelli3, Giacomo Muzi2, Luisa Airoldi3 and Rossana Pasquini1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical-Surgical Specialities and Public Health, University of Perugia, Via del Giochetto, 06122 Perugia, Italy

2 Institute of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, University of Perugia, Via E. dal Pozzo, 06126 Perugia, Italy

3 Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche "Mario Negri", Via Eritrea 62, 20157 Milan, Italy

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:270  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-270

Published: 1 October 2007



The results of a cross-sectional study aimed to evaluate whether genetic polymorphisms (biomarkers of susceptibility) for CYP1A1, EPHX and GSTM1 genes that affect polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) activation and detoxification might influence the extent of primary DNA damage (biomarker of biologically effective dose) in PAH exposed workers are presented. PAH-exposure of the study populations was assessed by determining the concentration of 1-hydroxypyrene (1OHP) in urine samples (biomarker of exposure dose).


The exposed group consisted of workers (n = 109) at a graphite electrode manufacturing plant, occupationally exposed to PAH. Urinary 1OHP was measured by HPLC. Primary DNA damage was evaluated by the alkaline comet assay in peripheral blood leukocytes. Genetic polymorphisms for CYP1A1, EPHX and GSTM1 were determined by PCR or PCR/RFLP analysis.


1OHP and primary DNA damage were significantly higher in electrode workers compared to reference subjects. Moreover, categorization of subjects as normal or outlier highlighted an increased genotoxic risk OR = 2.59 (CI95% 1.32–5.05) associated to exposure to PAH. Polymorphisms in EPHX exons 3 and 4 was associated to higher urinary concentrations of 1OHP, whereas none of the genotypes analyzed (CYP1A1, EPHX, and GSTM1) had any significant influence on primary DNA damage as evaluated by the comet assay.


The outcomes of the present study show that molecular epidemiology approaches (i.e. cross-sectional studies of genotoxicity biomarkers) can play a role in identifying common genetic risk factors, also attempting to associate the effects with measured exposure data. Moreover, categorization of subjects as normal or outlier allowed the evaluation of the association between occupational exposure to PAH and DNA damage highlighting an increased genotoxic risk.