The validity of mouse liver tumor end points in assessing the potential hazards of chemical exposure to humans is a controversial but important issue, since liver neoplasia in mice is the most frequent tumor target tissue end point in 2-year carcinogenicity studies. The ability to distinguish between promotion of background tumors versus a genotoxic mechanism of tumor initiation by chemical treatment would aid in the interpretation of rodent carcinogenesis data. Activated oncogenes in chemically induced and spontaneously occurring mouse liver tumors were examined and compared as one approach to determine the mechanism by which chemical treatment caused an increased incidence of mouse liver tumors. Data suggest that furan and furfural caused an increased incidence in mouse liver tumors at least in part by induction of novel weakly activating point mutations in ras genes even though both chemicals did not induce mutations in Salmonella assays. In addition to ras oncogenes, two activated raf genes and four non-ras transforming genes were detected. The B6C3F1 mouse liver may thus provide a sensitive assay system to detect various classes of proto-oncogenes that are susceptible to activation by carcinogenic insult. As illustrated with mouse liver tumors, analysis of activated oncogenes in spontaneously occurring and chemically induced rodent tumors will provide information at a molecular level to aid in the use of rodent carcinogenesis data for risk assessment.

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