p-Benzoquinone, a reactive metabolite of benzene, prevents the processing of pre-interleukins-1 alpha and -1 beta to active cytokines by inhibition of the processing enzymes, calpain, and interleukin-1 beta converting enzyme.

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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: Environmental health perspectives.

1996 Dec;104 Suppl 6:1251-6.

The published version is available at PMID: 9118901. Copyright © National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences


Chronic exposure of humans of benzene affects hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells and leads to aplastic anemia. The stromal macrophage, a target of benzene toxicity, secretes interleukin-1 (IL-1), which induces the stromal fibroblast to synthesize hematopoietic colony-stimulating factors. In a mouse model, benzene causes an acute marrow hypocellularity that can be prevented by the concomitant administration of IL-1 alpha. The ability of benzene to interfere with the production and secretion of IL-1 alpha was tested. Stromal macrophages from benzene-treated mice were capable of the transcription to the IL-1 alpha gene and the translation of the message but showed an inability to process the 34-kDa pre-IL-1 alpha precursor to the 17-kDa biologically active cytokine. Treatment of normal murine stromal macrophages in culture with hydroquinone (HQ) also showed an inhibition in processing of pre-IL-1 alpha. Hydroquinone is oxidized by a peroxidase-mediated reaction in the stromal macrophage to p-benzoquinone, which interacts with the sulfhydryl (SH) groups of proteins and was shown to completely inhibit the activity of calpain, the SH-dependent protease that cleaves pre-IL-1 alpha. In a similar manner, HQ, via peroxidase oxidation to p-benzoquinone, was capable of preventing the IL-1 beta autocrine stimulation of growth of human B1 myeloid tumor cells by preventing the processing of pre-IL-1 beta to mature cytokine. Benzoquinone was also shown to completely inhibit the ability of the SH-dependent IL-1 beta converting enzyme. Thus benzene-induced bone marrow hypocellularity may result from apoptosis of hematopoietic progenitor cells brought about by lack of essential cytokines and deficient IL-1 alpha production subsequent to the inhibition of calpain by p-benzoquinone and the prevention of pre-IL-1 processing.

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