Trapping of 3-methylcholanthrene (MC) radical cation by nucleophilic compounds occurs specifically at the 1-carbon atom. With the purpose of providing more evidence for the hypothesis that the critical mechanism of activation of MC is one-electron oxidation, the carcinogenicity of MC was compared to that of 1-hydroxy-3-methylcholanthrene (MC-1-OH), 3-methylcholanthrene-1-one (MC-1-one), 2-hydroxy-3-methylcholanthrene (MC-2-OH), 3-methylcholanthrene-2-one (MC-2-one) and 3-methylcholanthrylene (MCL) by repeated application on mouse skin. Seven-week-old female Swiss mice in 6 groups of 30 were treated on the back with 0.2 μmol of compound in acetone twice weekly for 20 weeks. In addition, the metabolism of MC and its derivatives was studied using mouse skin homogenates. The compounds tested were classified according to carcinogenicity in 4 groups: MC and MC-2-OH, the strongest carcinogens; MC-2-one and MCL, weaker than MC and MC-2-OH; MC-1-OH, the weakest carcinogen; and MC-1-one, noncarcinogenic. These results support the hypothesis that one-electron oxidation for MC, MC-2-OH and MC-1-one might be the critical mechanism of carcinogenic activation, with C-1 the binding site to cellular nucleophiles. The carcinogenic effect of MC-1-OH is speculated to be the formation of an ester bearing a good leaving group, which might be the ultimate alkylating compound in the in vivo reaction. The lack of carcinogenic activity for MC-1-one may be attributed to absence of nucleophilic trapping at C-1 via the radical cation pathway as well as the inability of mouse skin to reduce MC-1-one to the carcinogenic MC-1-OH.
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