Background/aims: Cigarette smoking increases the risk of cancer of the pancreas. The tobacco-specific nitrosamine 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)- 1-butanone (NNK) is the only known environmental compound that induces pancreatic cancer in laboratory animals. Concentrations of NNK are significantly higher in the pancreatic juice of smokers than in that of nonsmokers. The chiral NNK metabolite, (R,S)-4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL) is itself a potent pancreatic carcinogen in rats. The carcinogenicity of NNAL is related to its stereochemistry; (S)-NNAL is a more potent lung tumorigen in the A/J mouse than is (R)-NNAL. In this study, we determined the potential of the human pancreas to convert NNK into NNAL. Materials and methods: Human pancreatic microsomes and cytosols were incubated with [5-3H]NNK, and the metabolic products were determined by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Results: (S)-NNAL was the predominant isomer formed in all cytosolic incubations. In ten microsomal samples, NNAL was formed at an average rate of 3.8±1.6 pmol/mg/min; (R)-NNAL was the predominant isomer in this group. The average rate of NNAL formation in 18 other microsomal samples was significantly lower, 0.13±0.12 pmol/mg/min (p<0.001); (S)-NNAL was the predominant isomer formed in this group. Conclusion: In human pancreatic tissues, there is intraindividual variability regarding the capacity for, and stereoselectivity of, carbonyl reduction of NNK.
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