Arsenic exposure from drinking water is associated with decreased gene expression and increased DNA methylation in peripheral blood

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Abstract

Background:

Exposure to inorganic arsenic increases the risk of cancer and non-malignant diseases. Inefficient arsenic metabolism is a marker for susceptibility to arsenic toxicity. Arsenic may alter gene expression, possibly by altering DNA methylation.

Objectives:

To elucidate the associations between arsenic exposure, gene expression, and DNA methylation in peripheral blood, and the modifying effects of arsenic metabolism.

Methods:

The study participants, women from the Andes, Argentina, were exposed to arsenic via drinking water. Arsenic exposure was assessed as the sum of arsenic metabolites in urine (U-As), using high performance liquid-chromatography hydride-generation inductively-coupled-plasma-mass-spectrometry, and arsenic metabolism efficiency was assessed by the urinary fractions (%) of the individual metabolites. Genome-wide gene expression (N = 80 women) and DNA methylation (N = 93; 80 overlapping with gene expression) in peripheral blood were measured using Illumina DirectHyb HumanHT-12 v4.0 and Infinium Human-Methylation 450K BeadChip, respectively.

Results:

U-As concentrations, ranging 10–1251 μg/L, was associated with decreased gene expression: 64% of the top 1000 differentially expressed genes were down-regulated with increasing U-As. U-As was also associated with hypermethylation: 87% of the top 1000 CpGs were hypermethylated with increasing U-As. The expression of six genes and six individual CpG sites were significantly associated with increased U-As concentration. Pathway analyses revealed enrichment of genes related to cell death and cancer. The pathways differed somewhat depending on arsenic metabolism efficiency. We found no overlap between arsenic-related gene expression and DNA methylation for individual genes.

Conclusions:

Increased arsenic exposure was associated with lower gene expression and hypermethylation in peripheral blood, but with no evident overlap.

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