Within the last decade, the comet assay has been used with increasing popularity to investigate the level of DNA damage in terms of strand breaks and alkaline labile sites in biomonitoring studies. The assay is easily performed on WBCs and has been included in a wide range of biomonitoring studies of occupational exposures encompassing styrene, vinyl chloride, 1,3-butadiene, pesticides, hair dyes, antineoplastic agents, organic solvents, sewage and waste materials, wood dust, and ionizing radiation. Eleven of the occupational studies were positive, whereas seven were negative. Notably, the negative studies appeared to have less power than the positive studies. Also, there were poor dose-response relationships in many of the biomonitoring studies. Many factors have been reported to produce effects by the comet assay, e.g., age, air pollution exposure, diet, exercise, gender, infection, residential radon exposure, smoking, and season. Until now, the use of the comet assay has been hampered by the uncertainty of the influence of confounding factors. We argue that none of the confounding factors are unequivocally positive in the majority of the studies. We recommend that age, gender, and smoking status be used as criteria for the selection of populations and that data on exercise, diet, and recent infections be registered before blood sampling. Samples from exposed and unexposed populations should be collected at the same time to avoid seasonal variation. In general, the comet assay is considered a suitable and fast test for DNA-damaging potential in biomonitoring studies.
Keywords: Adolescent; Adult; Aged; Aged, 80 and over; Comet Assay; Confounding Factors (Epidemiology); DNA Damage; Demography; Female; Humans; Male; Middle Aged; Mutagens; Occupational Exposure; Seasons; Sensitivity and Specificity; Specimen Handling