Chemical research in toxicology

Potential of the NBP method for the study of alkylation mechanisms: NBP as a DNA-model.

PMID 22480281


Alkylating agents are considered to be archetypal carcinogens. One suitable technique to evaluate the activity of alkylating compounds is the NBP assay. This method is based on the formation of a chromophore in the reaction between the alkylating agent and the nucleophile 4-(p-nitrobenzyl)pyridine (NBP), a trap for alkylating agents with nucleophilic characteristics similar to those of DNA bases. NBP is known to react with strong and weak alkylating agents, and much insight into such alkylation mechanisms in vivo can be gained from kinetic study of some alkylation reactions in vitro. Since 1925, the NBP assay has evolved from being a qualitative, analytical tool to becoming a useful physicochemical method that not only allows the rules of chemical reactivity that govern electrophilicity and nucleophilicity to be applied to the reaction of DNA with alkylating agents but also helps to understand some significant relationships between the structure of many alkylation substrates (including DNA) and their chemical and biological responses. Given that advances in this area have the potential to yield both fundamental and practical advances in chemistry, biology, predictive toxicology, and anticancer drug development, this review is designed to provide an overview of the evolution of the NBP method from its early inception until its recent kinetic-mechanistic approach, which allows the pros and cons of NBP as a DNA-model to be analyzed. The validity of NBP as a nucleophilicity model for DNA in general and the position of guanosine at N7 in particular are discussed.