Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Anthony DeCaprio

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Fenfei Leng

Third Advisor's Name

Watson Lees

Fourth Advisor's Name

Dietrich Lorke

Fifth Advisor's Name

Bruce McCord


Chemical Warfare Agents, Protein Adducts, Biomarker of Exposure, Proteomics

Date of Defense



Chemical warfare agents continue to pose a global threat despite the efforts of the international community to prohibit their use in warfare. For this reason, improvement in the detection of these compounds remains of forensic interest. Protein adducts formed by the covalent modification of an electrophilic xenobiotic and a nucleophilic amino acid may provide a biomarker of exposure that is stable and specific to compounds of interest (such as chemical warfare agents), and have the capability to extend the window of detection further than the parent compound or circulating metabolites. This research investigated the formation of protein adducts of the nitrogen mustard chemical warfare agents mechlorethamine (HN-2) and tris(2-chloroethyl)amine (HN-3) to lysine and histidine residues found on the blood proteins hemoglobin and human serum albumin. Identified adducts were assessed for reproducibility and stability both in model peptide and whole protein assays. Specificity of these identified adducts was assessed using in vitro assays to metabolize common therapeutic drugs containing nitrogen mustard moieties. Results of the model peptide assays demonstrated that HN-2 and HN-3 were able to form stable adducts with lysine and histidine residues under physiological conditions. Results for whole protein assays identified three histidine adducts on hemoglobin, and three adducts (two lysine residues and one histidine residue) on human serum albumin that were previously unknown. These protein adducts were determined to be reproducible and stable at physiological conditions over a three-week analysis period. Results from the in vitro metabolic assays revealed that adducts formed by HN-2 and HN-3 are specific to these agents, as metabolized therapeutic drugs (chlorambucil, cyclophosphamide, and melphalan) did not form the same adducts on lysine or histidine residues as the previously identified adducts formed by HN-2 and HN-3. Results obtained from the model peptide and full protein work were enhanced by comparing experimental data to theoretical calculations for adduct formation, providing further confirmatory data. This project was successful in identifying and characterizing biomarkers of exposure to HN-2 and HN-3 that are specific and stable and which have the potential to be used for the forensic determination of exposure to these dangerous agents.





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