Mutagens may be of physical, chemical or biological origin. They may act directly on the DNA, causing direct damage to the DNA, and most often result in replication error. Some however may act on the replication mechanism and chromosomal partition. Many mutagens are not mutagenic by themselves, but can form mutagenic metabolites through cellular processes. Such mutagens are called promutagens. Physical mutagens
Ionizing radiations such as X-rays, gamma rays and alpha particles may cause DNA breakage and other damages. Ultraviolet radiations with wavelength above 260 nm are absorbed strongly by bases, producing pyrimidine dimers, which can cause error in replication if left uncorrected. Radioactive decay, such as 14C in DNA which decays into nitrogen. DNA reactive chemicals
A DNA adduct (at center) of benzo[a]pyrene, the major mutagen in tobacco smoke. A large number of chemicals may interact directly with DNA. However, many such as PAHs, aromatic amines, benzene are not necessarily mutagenic by themselves, but through metabolic processes in cells they produce mutagenic compounds. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) - These may be superoxide, hydroxyl radicals and hydrogen peroxide, and large number of these highly reactive species are generated by normal cellular processes, for example as a by-products of mitochondrial electron transport, or lipid peroxidation. A number of mutagens may also generate these ROS. Deaminating agents such as nitrous acid
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)
Alkylating agents such as ethylnitrosourea. The compounds transfer methyl or ethyl group to bases or the backbone phosphate groups. Guanine when alkylated may be mispaired with thiamine. Some may cause DNA crosslinking and breakages. Nitrosamines are an important group of mutagens found in tobacco, and may also be formed in in smoked meats and fish via the interaction of amines in food with nitrites added as preservatives. Other alkylating agents include mustard gas...
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