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Effects of chromium on DNA replication in vitro.

Chromium is an environmentally significant human carcinogen with complicated metabolism and an unknown mechanism of mutagenesis. Chromium(VI) is taken up by cells as the chromate anion and is reduced intracellularly via reactive intermediates to stable Cr(III) species. Chromium(III) forms tight complexes with biological ligands, such as DNA and proteins, which are slow to exchange. In vitro, CrCl3.6H2O primarily interacts with DNA to form outer shell charge complexes with the DNA phosphates. However, at micromolar concentrations, the Cr(III) binds to a low number of saturable tight binding sites on single-stranded M13 DNA. Additional chromium interacts in a nonspecific manner with the DNA and can form intermolecular DNA cross-links. Although high concentrations of Cr(III) inhibit DNA replication, micromolar concentrations of Cr(III) can substitute for Mg2+, weakly activate the Klenow fragment of E. coli DNA polymerase I (Pol I-KF), and act as an enhancer of nucleotide incorporation. Alterations in enzyme kinetics induced by Cr(III) increase DNA polymerase processivity and the rate of polymerase bypass of DNA lesions. This results in an increased rate of spontaneous mutagenesis during DNA replication both in vitro and in vivo. Our results indicate that chromium(III) may contribute to chromate-induced mutagenesis and may be a factor in the initiation of chromium carcinogenesis.