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Epidemiology studies suggest that there may be a weak association between high level exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) and renal tubule cell carcinoma. Laboratory animal studies have shown an increased incidence of renal tubule carcinoma in male rats but not mice. TCE can undergo metabolism via glutathione (GSH) conjugation to form metabolites that are known to be nephrotoxic. The GSH conjugate, S-(1,2-dichlorovinyl)glutathione (DCVG), is processed further to the cysteine conjugate, S-(1,2-dichlorovinyl)-l-cysteine (DCVC), which is the penultimate nephrotoxic species. We have cultured human renal tubule cells (HRPTC) in serum-free medium under a variety of different culture conditions and observed growth, respiratory control and glucose transport over a 20 day period in medium containing low glucose. Cell death was time- and concentration-dependent, with the EC50 for DCVG being about 3 μM and for DCVC about 7.5 μM over 10 days. Exposure of HRPTC to sub-cytotoxic doses of DCVC (0.1 μM and 1 μM for 10 days) led to a small number of changes in gene expression, as determined by transcript profiling with Affymetrix human genome chips. Using the criterion of a mean 2-fold change over control for the four samples examined, 3 genes at 0.1 μM DCVC increased, namely, adenosine kinase, zinc finger protein X-linked and an enzyme with lyase activity. At 1 μM DCVC, two genes showed a >2-fold decrease, N-acetyltransferase 8 and complement factor H. At a lower stringency (1.5-fold change), a total of 63 probe sets were altered at 0.1 μM DCVC and 45 at 1 μM DCVC. Genes associated with stress, apoptosis, cell proliferation and repair and DCVC metabolism were altered, as were a small number of genes that did not appear to be associated with the known mode of action of DCVC. Some of these genes may serve as molecular markers of TCE exposure and effects in the human kidney.