Arsenic activates the expression of 3β-HSD in mouse Leydig cells through repression of histone H3K9 methylation

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Arsenic exposure has been associated with male reproductive dysfunction by disrupting steroidogenesis; however, the roles of epigenetic drivers, especially histone methylation in arsenic-induced steroidogenic toxicity remain not well documented. In this study, we investigated the role of histone H3 lysine 9 (H3K9) methylation in steroidogenesis disturbance in mouse Leydig cells (MLTC-1) due to arsenic exposure. Our results indicated that mRNA and protein expression levels of 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3β-HSD) were both significantly up-regulated while the rest of key genes involved in steroidogenesis were down-regulated. Moreover, arsenic exposure significantly decreased the histone H3K9 di- and tri-methylation (H3K9me2/3) levels in MLTC-1 cells. Since H3K9 demethylation leads to gene activation, we further investigated whether the induction of 3β-HSD expression was ascribed to reduced H3K9 methylation. The results showed that H3K9me2/3 demethylase (JMJD2A) inhibitor, quercetin (Que) significantly attenuated the decrease of H3K9me2/3 and increase of 3β-HSD expression induced by arsenic. To further elucidate the mechanism for the activation of 3β-HSD, we determined the histone H3K9 methylation levels in Hsd3b gene promoter, which also showed significant decrease of H3K9me2/3 in the investigated region after arsenic exposure. Considering these results, we conclude that arsenic exposure induced 3β-HSD up-regulation by suppressing H3K9me2/3 status, which is suggested as a compensatory mechanism for steroidogenic disturbance in MLTC-1 cells.

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