Hydroquinone (HQ) is a potential human carcinogen to which many people are exposed. HQ generally tests negative in standard mutagenicity assays, making it a "nongenotoxic" carcinogen whose mechanism of action remains unknown. HQ is metabolized to 2,3,5-tris(glutathion-Syl)HQ (TGHQ), a potent toxic and redox active compound. To determine if TGHQ is a carcinogen in the kidney, TGHQ was administered to Eker rats (2 months of age) for 4 or 10 months. Eker rats carry a germline mutation in the tuberous sclerosis 2 (Tsc-2) tumor suppressor gene, which makes them highly susceptible to the development of renal tumors. As early as 4 months after the initiation of treatment (2.5 μmol/kg, ip), TGHQ-treated rats developed numerous toxic tubular dysplasias of a form rarely present in vehicle-treated rats. These preneoplastic lesions are believed to represent early transformation within tubules undergoing regeneration after injury by TGHQ, and adenomas subsequently arose within these lesions. After treatment for 10 months (2.5 μmol/kg for 4 months followed by 3.5 μmol/kg for 6 months), there were 6-, 7-, and 10-fold more basophilic dysplasias, adenomas, and renal cell carcinomas, respectively, in TGHQ-treated animals than in controls. Most of these lesions were in the region of TGHQ-induced acute renal injury, the outer stripe of the outer medulla. Loss of heterozygosity (LOH) at the Tsc-2 locus was demonstrated in both the toxic tubular dysplasias and tumors from rats treated with TGHQ for 10 months, consistent with TGHQ-induced loss of tumor suppressor function of the Tsc-2 gene. Thus, although HQ is generally considered a nongenotoxic carcinogen, our data suggest that HQ nephrocarcinogenesis is probably mediated by the formation of the quantitatively minor yet potent nephrotoxic metabolite TGHQ, which induces sustained regenerative hyperplasia, loss of tumor suppressor gene function, and the subsequent formation of renal adenomas and carcinomas. In addition, our data demonstrate that assumptions regarding mechanisms of action of nongenotoxic carcinogens should be considered carefully in the absence of data on the profiles of metabolites generated by these compounds in specific target organs for tumor induction.
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