The fate of benzene-oxide

Terrence J. Monks, Michael Butterworth, Serrine S. Lau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Metabolism is a prerequisite for the development of benzene-mediated myelotoxicity. Benzene is initially metabolized via cytochromes P450 (primarily CYP2E1 in liver) to benzene-oxide, which subsequently gives rise to a number of secondary products. Benzene-oxide equilibrates spontaneously with the corresponding oxepine valence tautomer, which can ring open to yield a reactive α,β-unsaturated aldehyde, trans-trans-muconaldehyde (MCA). Further reduction or oxidation of MCA gives rise to either 6-hydroxy-trans-trans-2,4-hexadienal or 6-hydroxy-trans-trans-2,4-hexadienoic acid. Both MCA and the hexadienal metabolite are myelotoxic in animal models. Alternatively, benzene-oxide can undergo conjugation with glutathione (GSH), resulting in the eventual formation and urinary excretion of S-phenylmercapturic acid. Benzene-oxide is also a substrate for epoxide hydrolase, which catalyzes the formation of benzene dihydrodiol, itself a substrate for dihydrodiol dehydrogenase, producing catechol. Finally, benzene-oxide spontaneously rearranges to phenol, which subsequently undergoes either conjugation (glucuronic acid or sulfate) or oxidation. The latter reaction, catalyzed by cytochromes P450, gives rise to hydroquinone (HQ) and 1,2,4-benzene triol. Co-administration of phenol and HQ reproduces the myelotoxic effects of benzene in animal models. The two diphenolic metabolites of benzene, catechol and HQ undergo further oxidation to the corresponding ortho-(1,2-), or para-(1,4-)benzoquinones (BQ), respectively. Trapping of 1,4-BQ with GSH gives rise to a variety of HQ-GSH conjugates, several of which are hematotoxic when administered to rats. Thus, benzene-oxide gives rise to a cascade of metabolites that exhibit biological reactivity, and that provide a plausible metabolic basis for benzene-mediated myelotoxicity. Benzene-oxide itself is remarkably stable, and certainly capable of translocating from its primary site of formation in the liver to the bone marrow. However, therein lies the challenge, for although there exists a plethora of information on the metabolism of benzene, and the fate of benzene-oxide, there is a paucity of data on the presence, concentration, and persistence of benzene metabolites in bone marrow. The major metabolites in bone marrow of mice exposed to 50ppm [3H]benzene are muconic acid, and glucuronide and/or sulfate conjugates of phenol, HQ, and catechol. Studies with [14C/13C]benzene revealed the presence in bone marrow of protein adducts of benzene-oxide, 1,4-BQ, and 1,4-BQ, the relative abundance of which was both dose and species dependent. In particular, histones are bone marrow targets of [14C]benzene, although the identity of the reactive metabolite(s) giving rise to these adducts remain unknown. Finally, hematotoxic HQ-GSH conjugates are present in the bone marrow of rats receiving the HQ/phenol combination. In summary, although the fate of benzene-oxide is known in remarkable detail, coupling this information to the site, and mechanism of action, remains to be established.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-206
Number of pages6
JournalChemico-Biological Interactions
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Benzene metabolism
  • Benzene-oxide
  • Bone marrow
  • Hematotoxicity
  • Hydroquinone
  • Muconaldehyde
  • Phenol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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