Acetonitrile is used primarily as a solvent in extractive distillation and crystallization of pharmaceutical and agricultural products and as a catalyst in chemical reactions. It was nominated for testing by the National Cancer Institute due to its presence in drinking water supplies and the environment, due to lack of information on the carcinogenicity of alkyl cyanides, and because of widespread worker exposure. Male and female F344/N rats and B6C3F1 mice were exposed to acetonitrile (at least 99% pure) by inhalation for 13 weeks or 2 years. Genetic toxicology studies were conducted in Salmonella typhimurium, cultured Chinese hamster ovary cells, and peripheral blood of B6C3F1 mice exposed to acetonitrile for 13 weeks.
13-Week Study in Rats
Groups of 10 male and 10 female F344/N rats were exposed to 0, 100, 200, 400, 800, or 1,600 ppm (equivalent to 0, 168, 335, 670, 1,340, or 2,681 mg/m3) acetonitrile by inhalation for 6 hours per day, 5 days per week for 13 weeks. Six male and three female rats that received 1,600 ppm and one male that received 800 ppm died during the study. At exposure concentrations up to and including 800 ppm, the final mean body weights and body weight gains were generally similar to those of the controls. At 1,600 ppm, body weight gain was lower and the final mean body weights of both males and females were significantly lower than those of the controls. Hypoactivity and ruffled fur were observed during the first week of the study in males receiving 800 ppm and males and females receiving 1,600 ppm. Additional clinical findings in 1,600 ppm males that died during week 1 were ataxia, abnormal posture, and clonic convulsions. Clinical pathology findings included nonresponsive, normocytic, normochromic anemia in 1,600 ppm males and females and in 800 ppm females, and decreased triiodothyronine (T3) concentrations in 1,600 ppm females. Absolute and relative thymus weights were significantly lower than those of the controls in the 800 and 1,600 ppm males and females. Females exposed to 1,600 ppm had significantly greater absolute and relative heart, kidney, and liver weights than those of the controls. There were no clear exposure-related histopathologic effects, although pulmonary congestion and edema and hemorrhage in the lung and brain were seen in some rats that died early. These lesions are consistent with cyanide-induced anoxia.
13-Week Study in Mice
Groups of 10 male and 10 female B6C3F1 mice were exposed to 0, 100, 200, 400, 800, or 1,600 ppm (equivalent to 0, 168, 335, 670, 1,340, or 2,681 mg/m3) acetonitrile by inhalation for 6 hours per day, 5 days per week for 13 weeks. All mice exposed to 1,600 ppm died during the first 3 weeks of the study. In addition, one 400 ppm female and one male and four females from the 800 ppm groups also died before the end of the study. Body weight gains were similar to those of controls for all surviving groups of mice except the 800 ppm males, for which the final mean body weight was slightly lower than that of the controls. Clinical findings observed during the first week in 800 and 1,600 ppm mice were hypoactivity and a hunched, rigid posture. In males that received 200 ppm and above, absolute liver weights were greater than that of the controls and relative liver weights were greater in all exposed groups. In 800 ppm females, the absolute liver weight was greater than that of the controls and relative liver weights of females that received 400 ppm and above were greater than that of the controls. Lesions clearly associated with acetonitrile exposure were observed in the stomach, predominantly the forestomach, of males that received 400 ppm and above and of females that received 200 ppm and above. Histologically, these focal or multifocal pale to dark raised lesions consisted of areas of focal epithelial hyperplasia and ulceration, sometimes associated with hemosiderin deposition. An increased incidence of cytoplasmic vacuolation occurred in the liver of males and females exposed to 400 or 800 ppm. A lack of fatty degenerative change was observed in the X-zone of the adrenal cortex of 800 and 1,600 ppm female mice.
2-Year Study in Rats
The doses selected for the 2-year study of acetonitrile were based on reduced survival of 800 ppm males and 1,600 ppm males and females in the 13-week study. Groups of up to 56 male and 56 female rats were exposed to 0, 100, 200, or 400 ppm (equivalent to 0, 168, 335, or 670 mg/m3) acetonitrile by inhalation for 6 hours per day, 5 days per week for 2 years. Eight male and eight female rats from each exposure group were evaluated at 15 months for histopathology and hematology parameters.
Survival, Body Weights, Clinical Findings, and Hematology
Two-year survival, mean body weights, organ weights, behavior, general health, and appearance of exposed male and female rats were similar to those of the controls. The hematologic effects observed were minor and of no biological significance.
The incidences of hepatocellular adenoma (3/48), hepatocellular carcinoma (3/48), and hepatocellular adenoma or carcinoma (combined; 5/48) were greater in male rats exposed to 400 ppm than in the controls (one carcinoma). The incidences of hepatocellular adenoma and hepatocellular carcinoma were within the range of historical controls. However, the incidence of hepatocellular adenoma or carcinoma (combined) slightly exceeded the range of historical controls (2%-8%). In addition, the incidences of basophilic, eosinophilic, and mixed cell foci in 400 ppm males were marginally greater than in controls, suggesting hepatotoxicity of acetonitrile. There were no exposure-related liver lesions in female rats.
2-Year Study in Mice
The exposure concentrations selected for the 2-year study were based on reduced survival and gross and histopathologic lesions in 400, 800, and 1,600 ppm groups of male and female mice in the 13-week study. Groups of 60 male and 60 female mice were exposed to 0, 50, 100, or 200 ppm (equivalent to 0, 84, 168, or 335 mg/m3) acetonitrile by inhalation for 6 hours per day, 5 days per week for 2 years. Ten male and 10 female mice from each exposure group were evaluated at 15 months for histopathology.
Survival, Body Weights, and Clinical Findings
Two-year survival of exposed male and female mice was similar to that of the controls, except that the survival of male mice in the 200 ppm group was significantly greater than that of the controls. Mean body weights and organ weights of exposed groups of male and female mice were similar to those of the controls, and no clinical observations in any group were clearly related to acetonitrile exposure.
There were no increases in the incidences of neoplasms that were considered related to acetonitrile exposure in mice. The incidence of squamous hyperplasia of the epithelium of the forestomach was significantly increased at 15 months in 200 ppm females. At 2 years, the increased incidence of this lesion was dose related in all exposed groups of males and females.
Acetonitrile was not mutagenic in Salmonella typhimurium strain TA97, TA98, TA100, TA1535, or TA1537, with or without S9 metabolic activation. In cultured Chinese hamster ovary cells, acetonitrile produced a weakly positive response in the sister chromatid exchange test without, but not with, S9. A small increase in chromosomal aberrations was observed in cultured Chinese hamster ovary cells treated with acetonitrile in the presence, but not in the absence, of S9. A significant increase in micronucleated normochromatic erythrocytes was observed in peripheral blood samples from male mice treated with acetonitrile for 13 weeks; the frequency of micronucleated erythrocytes in female mice was not affected by exposure to acetonitrile.
Under the conditions of these 2-year inhalation studies, there was equivocal evidence of carcinogenic activity of acetonitrile in male F344/N rats based on marginally increased incidences of hepatocellular adenoma and carcinoma. There was no evidence of carcinogenic activity of acetonitrile in female F344/N rats exposed to 100, 200, or 400 ppm. There was no evidence of carcinogenic activity of acetonitrile in male or female B6C3F1 mice exposed to 50, 100, or 200 ppm.
Exposure to acetonitrile by inhalation resulted in increased incidences of hepatic basophilic foci in male rats and of squamous hyperplasia of the forestomach in male and female mice.