Co-exposure to nickel and cobalt chloride enhances cytotoxicity and oxidative stress in human lung epithelial cells

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Nickel and cobalt are heavy metals found in land, water, and air that can enter the body primarily through the respiratory tract and accumulate to toxic levels. Nickel compounds are known to be carcinogenic to humans and animals, while cobalt compounds produce tumors in animals and are probably carcinogenic to humans. People working in industrial and manufacturing settings have an increased risk of exposure to these metals. The cytotoxicity of nickel and cobalt has individually been demonstrated; however, the underlying mechanisms of co-exposure to these heavy metals have not been explored. In this study, we investigated the effect of exposure of H460 human lung epithelial cells to nickel and cobalt, both alone and in combination, on cell survival, apoptotic mechanisms, and the generation of reactive oxygen species and double strand breaks. For simultaneous exposure, cells were exposed to a constant dose of 150 μM cobalt or nickel, which was found to be relatively nontoxic in single exposure experiments. We demonstrated that cells exposed simultaneously to cobalt and nickel exhibit a dose-dependent decrease in survival compared to the cells exposed to a single metal. The decrease in survival was the result of enhanced caspase 3 and 7 activation and cleavage of poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase. Co-exposure increased the production of ROS and the formation of double strand breaks. Pretreatment with N-acetyl cysteine alleviated the toxic responses. Collectively, this study demonstrates that co-exposure to cobalt and nickel is significantly more toxic than single exposure and that toxicity is related to the formation of ROS and DSB.

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