Marina Camatini, Patrizia Bonfanti, Anita Colombo, Chiara Urani and Silvia Crippa

This paper describes the use of two in vitro systems (stage 35 Xenopus laevis embryos and the human hepatoblastoma cell line, Hep G2) to study effects of some environmental contaminants (benzo[a]pyrene, copper and zinc), which are representative of chemicals with different cell targets and mechanisms of action. The ability to activate benzo[a]pyrene and to metabolise it with the cytochrome P4501A isozyme were demonstrated in both in vitro systems by assessing the formation of water-soluble and protein-bound benzo[a]pyrene metabolites and by immunochemical analysis. In X. laevis embryos, the formation of DNA adducts demonstrated the ability to produce benzo[a]pyrene reactive metabolites. Moreover, in Hep G2 cells, the cytoskeletal protein, tubulin, and the reduced form of glutathione proved to be the cellular targets of copper and zinc toxicity. In response to metal-induced stress in Hep G2 cells, there was a cytoplasmic reorganisation of heat shock protein, Hsp 70. In conclusion, the in vitro systems provide for a rapid evaluation of heterogeneous compounds such as benzo[a]pyrene and heavy metals that differ in toxic potency and mechanisms of action. They could also be used to study the mechanisms of toxic action and to identify specific cellular and molecular targets.
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