Chromium(VI) complexes are potent mutagens and carcinogens when inhaled, while the
potential of these complexes to generate similar effects when taken orally is an area of active
debate. The exact mechanism(s) of action of this activity is unknown, but potential mechanisms
can be grouped into two categories. The first is mechanisms associated with the redox
chemistry during the reduction of Cr(VI) ultimately to Cr(III). In the 20 years, significant progress
has been made in characterizing alterations to DNA results from these redox processes. The
second mechanism is based on the generated Cr(III) binding to DNA to form binary and ternary
complexes, which ultimately give may arise to the mutagenic and carcinogenic effects.
Unfortunately, while these Cr-DNA complexes have been studied intensely the last circa 15
years, virtually no data on the molecular level structure of these Cr(III)-DNA complexes exists.
Such knowledge is essential to understanding and determining the potential of these complexes
to lead to deleterious effects. Because of the unique magnetic and chemical properties of Cr(III)
complexes, characterization of Cr(III)-biomolecules is not trivial, requiring special expertise.
Additionally, previous studies have used plasmid DNA, DNA polymers, calf thymus DNA, or DNA
isolated from cultured cells, which because of their size and complexity present numerous
potential Cr-binding sites with a wide range of binding constants. What is required to determine
the preferential sites for Cr-binding and to characterize the structure of these sites is the use of
DNA oligomers significantly smaller in size whose base sequences can be carefully designed and
which can readily be synthesized in appreciable quantities and whose Cr(III) complexes are
readily amendable to characterization by spectroscopic and magnetic techniques. Our long term
goal is to characterize the binding of chromium(III) to DNA at a molecular level and relate the
structures to the genotoxicity and carcinogenicity of Cr(VI).