Toxicol Sci
July, 2013

Genotoxicity Profile of Azidothymidine In Vitro.

Andreas Zeller, Julie Koenig, Georg Schmitt, Thomas Singer, Melanie Guérard

Azidothymidine (Zidovudine, AZT) is part of the standard care of treatment for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome since many years. A great number of studies on the genotoxic potential of AZT have been published, but no comprehensive hypothesis yet explains all observations. We investigated a multitude of genotoxic endpoints, both in vitro and in vivo, with the goal to complete the picture. The mutagenic potential of AZT in bacteria was found to be restricted to strains with an #ochre# target sequence and could be abrogated both by thymidine supplementation and rat liver S9 mix. Single-strand breaks in mammalian cells were detected in the comet assay after short-term treatment (3h) with AZT, which did not induce micronuclei. The latter were mainly seen after prolonged exposure (24 and 48h) and are probably not directly related to AZT incorporation into DNA. Our data demonstrate that short-term exposure to low AZT concentrations does not induce biologically relevant micronucleation. Only treatment with high concentrations of AZT for prolonged time periods manifests in substantial micronucleus induction. Furthermore, we found that high concentrations of thymidine have no effect in the comet assay but increase micronucleus frequency in a manner very similar to AZT. These results lead us to the following hypothesis: AZT is triphosphorylated and then incorporated into DNA strands, leading to mutations and cytotoxicity. Cellular attempts to repair these DNA lesions as well as stalled replication forks due to chain termination are detectable with the comet assay. Increased micronucleus frequency is likely related to nucleotide pool imbalance.

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