Identification of early target genes of aflatoxin B1 in human hepatocytes, inter-individual variability and comparison with other genotoxic compounds

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Gene expression profiling has recently emerged as a promising approach to identify early target genes and discriminate genotoxic carcinogens from non-genotoxic carcinogens and non-carcinogens. However, early gene changes induced by genotoxic compounds in human liver remain largely unknown. Primary human hepatocytes and differentiated HepaRG cells were exposed to aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) that induces DNA damage following enzyme-mediated bioactivation. Gene expression profile changes induced by a 24 h exposure of these hepatocyte models to 0.05 and 0.25 μM AFB1 were analyzed by using oligonucleotide pangenomic microarrays. The main altered signaling pathway was the p53 pathway and related functions such as cell cycle, apoptosis and DNA repair. Direct involvement of the p53 protein in response to AFB1 was verified by using siRNA directed against p53. Among the 83 well-annotated genes commonly modulated in two pools of three human hepatocyte populations and HepaRG cells, several genes were identified as altered by AFB1 for the first time. In addition, a subset of 10 AFB1-altered genes, selected upon basis of their function or tumor suppressor role, was tested in four human hepatocyte populations and in response to other chemicals. Although they exhibited large variable inter-donor fold-changes, several of these genes, particularly FHIT, BCAS3 and SMYD3, were found to be altered by various direct and other indirect genotoxic compounds and unaffected by non-genotoxic compounds. Overall, this comprehensive analysis of early gene expression changes induced by AFB1 in human hepatocytes identified a gene subset that included several genes representing potential biomarkers of genotoxic compounds.

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