Arsenic alters transcriptional responses toPseudomonas aeruginosainfection and decreases antimicrobial defense of human airway epithelial cells

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Arsenic contamination of drinking water and food threatens the health of hundreds of millions of people worldwide by increasing the risk of numerous diseases. Arsenic exposure has been associated with infectious lung disease in epidemiological studies, but it is not yet understood how ingestion of low levels of arsenic increases susceptibility to bacterial infection. Accordingly, the goal of this study was to examine the effect of arsenic on gene expression in primary human bronchial epithelial (HBE) cells and to determine if arsenic altered epithelial cell responses to Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic pathogen. Bronchial epithelial cells line the airway surface, providing a physical barrier and serving critical roles in antimicrobial defense and signaling to professional immune cells. We used RNA-seq to define the transcriptional response of HBE cells to Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and investigated how arsenic affected HBE gene networks in the presence and absence of the bacterial challenge. Environmentally relevant levels of arsenic significantly changed the expression of genes involved in cellular redox homeostasis and host defense to bacterial infection, and decreased genes that code for secreted antimicrobial factors such as lysozyme. Using pathway analysis, we identified Sox4 and Nrf2-regulated gene networks that are predicted to mediate the arsenic-induced decrease in lysozyme secretion. In addition, we demonstrated that arsenic decreased lysozyme in the airway surface liquid, resulting in reduced lysis of Microccocus luteus. Thus, arsenic alters the expression of genes and proteins in innate host defense pathways, thereby decreasing the ability of the lung epithelium to fight bacterial infection.Graphical abstractHighlightsArsenic alters transcriptional responses of lung cells to Pseudomonas aeruginosa.Environmentally relevant arsenic exposure decreases expression of host defense genes.Arsenic decreases lysozyme release and bactericidal activity in airway surface liquid.

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