Mammalian cell cytotoxicity and genotoxicity analysis of drinking water disinfection by-products

Michael J. Plewa, Yahya Kargalioglu, Danielle Vankerk, Roger A. Minear, Elizabeth D. Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cytotoxicity and genotoxicity assays were used to analyze drinking water disinfection by-products (DBPs) in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) AS52 cells. The DBPs were chosen because they are common in drinking water, resulting from conventional disinfection using chlorination and chloramination. Data were also available to compare these results with cytotoxicity and mutagenicity studies in Salmonella typhimurium. The rank order in decreasing chronic cytotoxicity measured in a microplate-based assay was bromoacetic acid (BA) ≫ 3-chloro-4-(dichloromethyl)-5-hydroxy-2[5H]-furanone (MX) > dibromoacetic acid (DBA) > chloroacetic acid (CA) > KBrO3 > tribromoacetic acid (TBA) > EMS (ethylmethanesulfonate, positive control) > dichloroacetic acid (DCA) > trichloroacetic acid (TCA). The induction of DNA strand breaks by these agents was measured by alkaline single-cell gel electrophoresis (SCGE, comet assay) and the rank order in decreasing genotoxicity was BA ≫ MX > CA > DBA > TBA > EMS > KBrO3, while DCA and TCA were refractory. BA was more cytotoxic (31×) and genotoxic (14×) than MX in CHO cells. BA was over 400× more genotoxic than potassium bromate. The brominated haloacetic acids (HAAs) were more cytotoxic and genotoxic than their chlorinated analogs. The HAAs expressed a statistically significant inverse relationship in CHO cell cytotoxicity and genotoxicity as a function of increased numbers of halogen atoms per molecule. A quantitative comparison was conducted with results from a previous study with cytotoxicity and mutagenicity in S. typhimurium. There was no correlation between chronic CHO cell and bacterial cell cytotoxicity. DBP-induced CHO cell cytotoxicity was not related to mutagenic potency in S. typhimurium. Cytotoxicity in CHO cells was statistically significant and highly correlated to CHO cell genotoxicity. Finally, we determined that the DBP genotoxic potency in CHO cells and the mutagenic potency in S. typhimurium were not related. This suggests that toxicity data in S. typhimurium did not quantitatively predict the toxic effects of DBPs in mammalian cell systems. The microplate CHO cell cytotoxicity and genotoxicity assays were well suited for the analysis of DBPs, especially when the quantity of test material is limited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)134-142
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental and Molecular Mutagenesis
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • CHO cells
  • Comet assay
  • Comparative toxicity
  • DBP
  • DNA strand breaks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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