Acrylamide in food can cause DNA damage

Siri Helland Hansen The chemical is used in industry and has led to effects in the nervous system of construction workers. Acrylamide is also formed in starch-rich foods (such as corn and potatoes) when heated at temperatures above 120 ºC. Most Norwegians ingest it daily in low concentrations throughout life.

PhD student Siri Helland Hansen and colleagues at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health have found that acrylamide can cause certain types of DNA damage in the body’s cells. In her thesis “DNA Damage induced by acrylamide in somatic and glycidamide and testicular cells” Helland Hansen has confirmed that it is the metabolite glycidamide – the body’s breakdown product of acrylamide – which causes DNA damage.

Siri Helland Hansen used mouse and human cells in the experiments. Glycidamide caused almost as much DNA damage in testicular cells as in other organs. She also found that human lymphocytes (white blood cells) showed more DNA damage than mouse lymphocytes when exposed to glycidamide in the laboratory.

The studies strongly suggest that the metabolite glycidamide binds to the DNA bases guanine and adenine in body cells and testicular cells. The significance of this type of DNA damage is not yet clear, but the studies suggest that cell-specific mechanisms do not repair this DNA damage quickly.

Cells with unrepaired DNA damage can cause cancer or reduced male fertility through several mechanisms. Acrylamide is thus one of several environmental and lifestyle factors that may harm our health.

Helland Hansen used the comet assay to detect the DNA damage and she also adapted the method to reveal the structure of the DNA lesions. Overall, the outcome of these modifications is a comet assay which is both more specific and has an increased sensitivity to detect changes in DNA, caused by glycidamide or similar compounds.

Siri Helland Hansen will defend her thesis on 15th February 2011. The research project has been funded by the Norwegian Research Council and the European project “HEATOX”.