Arch Toxicol. 2020 Aug 25. doi: 10.1007/s00204-020-02872-6. Online ahead of print.
Chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic is associated with a variety of adverse health effects, including lung, bladder, kidney, and liver cancer. Several mechanisms have been proposed for arsenic-induced tumorigenesis; however, insufficient knowledge and many unanswered questions remain to explain the integrated molecular pathogenesis of arsenic carcinogenicity. In the present study, using non-tumorigenic human liver HepaRG cells, we investigated epigenetic alterations upon prolonged exposure to
a noncytotoxic concentration of sodium arsenite (NaAsO2). We demonstrate that continuous exposure of HepaRG cells to 1 µM sodium arsenite (NaAsO2) for 14 days resulted in substantial cytosine DNA demethylation and hypermethylation across the genome, among which the claudin 14 (CLDN14) gene was hypermethylated and the most down-regulated gene. Another important finding was a profound loss of histone H3 lysine 36 (H3K36) trimethylation, which was accompanied by increased damage to genomic DNA and an elevated de novo mutation frequency. These results demonstrate that continuous exposure of HepaRG cells to a noncytotoxic concentration of NaAsO2 results in substantial epigenetic abnormalities accompanied by several carcinogenesis-related events, including induction of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, damage to DNA, inhibition of DNA repair genes, and induction of de novo mutations. Importantly, this study highlights the intimate mechanistic link and interplay between two fundamental cancer-associated events, epigenetic and genetic alterations, in arsenic-associated carcinogenesis.