In this report, the identity of the cytochrome P450 isozyme(s) catalyzing the hydroxylation of benzene and the major hydroxylated metabolite of benzene, phenol, was investigated using rabbit hepatic microsomes and six purified isozymes of hepatic P450. Microsomes from acetone-treated rabbits showed about a 5-fold induction of benzene hydroxylation to phenol and hydroquinone. This increase correlated with the increase in form 3a determined immunochemically (about 7-fold). Antibody to isozyme 3a inhibited greater than 90% of the benzene and phenol hydroxylase activity of hepatic microsomes from acetone-treated rabbits. At high benzene concentrations (2 mm) in the presence of cytochrome b5, form 3a was 1.3 times more active than form 2 and 7- to 10-fold more active than forms 3b, 3c, 4, and 6. At lower benzene concentrations (about 0.3 mm) form 3a was 5-fold more active than form 2. Furthermore, form 3a was the only isozyme to produce significant quantities of hydroquinone as did microsomes from acetone-treated rabbits. When phenol was used as the substrate, hydroquinone was the only product detected, and acetone treatment induced its formation 4- to 5-fold. Purified form 3a was 20- to 30-fold more active than the next most active isozyme, form 6, depending on the presence or absence of cytochrome b5. These results suggest that isozyme 3a (P450IIE1) is a low-Km benzene hydroxylase and the principal phenol hydroxylase in rabbit hepatic microsomes. As a result, the induction of isozyme 3a could potentiate the toxicity of benzene by catalyzing an increase in the formation of both phenol and hydroquinone.
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