Mixtures of Cu2+ and H2O2 at pH 7.4 caused damage to the bases in DNA greater than that caused by mixtures of Fe3+ and H2O2. Addition of ascorbic acid to the Cu2+/H2O2 system caused a very large increase in base damage, much greater than that produced by the Fe3+/H2O2/ascorbic acid system. The products of base damage in the presence of Cu2+ were typical products that have been shown to result from attack of hydroxyl radicals upon the DNA bases. Cytosine glycol, thymine glycol, 8-hydroxyadenine and especially 8-hydroxyguanine were the major products in both the Cu2+/H2O2 and the Cu2+/H2O2/ascorbic acid systems. Base damage in DNA by these systems was inhibited by the chelating agents EDTA and nitrilotriacetic acid and by catalase, but not by superoxide dismutase, nor by the hydroxyl-radical scavenger mannitol. It is proposed that Cu2+ ions bound to the DNA react with H2O2 and ascorbic acid to generate hydroxyl radicals, which then immediately attack the DNA bases in a site-specific manner. A hypoxanthine/xanthine oxidase system also caused damage to the DNA bases in the presence of Cu2+ ions. This was inhibited by superoxide dismutase and catalase. The high activity of Cu2+ ions, when compared with Fe3- ions, in causing hydroxyl-radical-dependent damage to DNA and to other biomolecules, means that the availability of Cu2+ ions in vivo must be carefully controlled.

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