A new study has shown that people carrying certain mutations in two hereditary cancer genes, BRCA2 and PALB2, may have a higher than usual susceptibility to DNA damage caused by a byproduct of alcohol, called acetaldehyde.
The scientists, who conducted experiments on human cell lines in laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, said they suspect that the two genes in their normal forms evolved to protect cells against the damaging effects of acetaldehyde, which can lead to cancer.
“We need to identify which behaviors in certain populations increase disease risk, and keep in mind that our genetic susceptibility plays a large role in cancer risk,” Scott Kern, M.D ., the Everett and Marjorie Kovler Professor in Pancreas Cancer Research at Johns Hopkins, said.
Acetaldehyde is produced during the metabolism of alcohol and is known to cause DNA damage.
The scientists found that BRCA2 and PALB2-mutant cell lines exposed to acetaldehyde had up to 25 times more growth reduction when compared with related cells lacking these mutations.
The significant reduction in cell growth indicates that these cell lines, which lack the two genes, are more susceptible to the DNA damage caused by acetaldehyde, said the scientists.
They suggested that the DNA-damaging effects of acetaldehyde exposure in people lacking these genes may accelerate cancer growth.
The study is published in the American Journal of Pathology.