Fetal Onset of Aberrant Gene Expression Relevant to Pulmonary Carcinogenesis in Lung Adenocarcinoma Development Induced by In Utero Arsenic Exposure

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Arsenic is a human pulmonary carcinogen. Our work indicates that in utero arsenic exposure in mice can induce or initiate lung cancer in female offspring. To define early molecular changes, pregnant C3H mice were given 85 ppm arsenic in drinking water from days 8 to 18 of gestation and expression of selected genes in the fetal lung or in lung tumors developing in adults was examined. Transplacental arsenic exposure increased estrogen receptor-α (ER-α) transcript and protein levels in the female fetal lung. An overexpression of various estrogen-regulated genes also occurred, including trefoil factor-3, anterior gradient-2, and the steroid metabolism genes 17-β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 5 and aromatase. The insulin growth factor system, which can be influenced by ER and has been implicated in the pulmonary oncogenic process, was activated in fetal lung after gestational arsenic exposure. In utero arsenic exposure also induced overexpression of α-fetoprotein, epidermal growth factor receptor, L-myc, and metallothionein-1 in fetal lung, all of which are associated with lung cancer. Lung adenoma and adenocarcinoma from adult female mice exposed to arsenic in utero showed widespread, intense nuclear ER-α expression. In contrast, normal adult lung and diethylnitrosamine-induced lung adenocarcinoma showed little evidence of ER-α expression. Thus, transplacental arsenic exposure at a carcinogenic dose produced aberrant estrogen-linked pulmonary gene expression. ER-α activation was specifically associated with arsenic-induced lung adenocarcinoma and adenoma but not with nitrosamine-induced lung tumors. These data provide evidence that arsenic-induced aberrant ER signaling could disrupt early life stage genetic programing in the lung leading eventually to lung tumor formation much later in adulthood.

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