Activation of Nitrite

  • William Lijinsky


Nitrites and nitrous acid are well-known mutagens in bacteria and could be considered a hazard to man, even though nitrites are widely distributed in nature because they are formed by bacterial reduction of nitrates, which are almost ubiquitous. Nitrite is present in saliva because of this process. Nitrites have also been reported at unusually high concentrations in plants growing on mineral-deficient soil. This leads to deficiency of enzymes that convert nitrite to hydroxylamine and ammonia, causing nitrite to accumulate (1). The bacteria in the stomachs of infants can reduce nitrate to nitrite when occasionally present at high concentrations in drinking water. All of these reactions, including formation of nitrite from nitrate in vegetables which have been allowed to stand in the presence of bacteria (and some vegetables have high contents of nitrate), have been associated with methemoglobinemia, the best-known toxic effect of nitrite in man, which is occasionally fatal. Methemoglobinemia in animals has been associated with nitrite from plants (2). There is no evidence, however, that nitrites are mutagenic in man or any other animal.


Tertiary Amine Amino Compound Nitroso Compound Union Carbide Corporation Deuterium Isotope Effect 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Lijinsky
    • 1
  1. 1.Biology DivisionOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA

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