The presence of covalent DNA chemical addition products (adducts) in human term placentas was investigated by recently developed immunologic and 32P-postlabeling assays. DNA from placental specimens of smokers showed a small but not statistically significant increase in adduct levels when tested by antibodies to DNA modified with a benzo[a]pyrene dihydrodiol epoxide (BPDE-I), the ultimate carcinogenic derivative of benzo[a]pyrene. The postlabeling assay detected several modified nucleotides, one of which (adduct 1) strongly related to maternal smoking during pregnancy. This adduct was present in placental tissue from 16 of 17 smokers, but only 3 of 14 nonsmokers. Among smokers, levels of adduct 1 in general were only weakly related to questionnaire and biochemical measures of the intensity of smoking exposures, which suggests modulation by individual susceptibility factors. The adduct seemed to be derived from an aromatic carcinogen, but it may not result from several of the most intensely studied polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or aromatic amines in tobacco smoke. The data show the association of cigarette smoking with covalent damage to human DNA in vivo.

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