Induction of pro-apoptotic and cell cycle-inhibiting genes in chromium (VI)-treated human lung fibroblasts: Lack of effect of ERK

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry








Clonogenic survival; Hexavalent chronium; Mitogen-activated protein kinase; Transcription


Cell proliferation and apoptosis are controlled by tightly orchestrated signaling pathways that culminate in transcriptional activation/repression of multiple proteins. Dysregulation of cell cycle and/or apoptosis control may lead to genomic instability, neoplastic transformation and tumor progression. Under certain conditions, some hexavalent chromium [Cr(VI)] compounds are toxic and carcinogenic in the human respiratory tract, and we have shown that they induce apoptosis and/or cell cycle arrest in a p53-dependent fashion. There is increasing evidence linking extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) activation with the DNA damage response, by both p53-dependent and -independent mechanisms. Here, the aim was to study the effect of Cr(VI) transcriptional regulation of key cell cycle inhibitors and pro- and anti-apoptotic proteins, as well as the role of ERK activation in the Cr(VI) genotoxic response. Diploid human lung fibroblasts were incubated with 3-9 uM Na2CrO4, and RNA was isolated at 4, 8, and 24 h, as well as 24 h after Cr(VI) exposure was terminated (recovery). mRNA expression was quantitated by RNase protection assay with a 32P-labeled multi-transcript probe containing gene sequences for the cdk inhibitors, p21-waf1/cip1, p27kip1, p16INK4a, p15INK4b; the pro-apoptotic proteins bcl-XS and bax; the anti-apoptotic proteins bcl-W, bcl-XL, and bcl2, GADD45, and cyclin A. In general, bcl-W and bcl-XL expression were both downregulated after Cr exposure, to around 50% at 24 h, which was more pronounced after the recovery period. At Cr(VI) concentrations ≤ 6 uM, bcl2 expression was upregulated. Of particular interest is that bax expression was reduced, in a dose and time-dependent fashion, however that of bcl-XS was elevated by nearly 3-fold after 8 h, and declined to control levels at the end of the recovery period. Expression of GADD45 and p21 were both upregulated by 2-fold at 8 h, but declined to control levels during recovery. Neither the expression of p27 nor that of p16 were apparently affected by Cr(VI) exposure, however the expression of p15 was markedly increased after exposure to all concentrations of Cr(VI). Finally, the expression of cyclin A was decreased after 24 h Cr(VI) exposure. Cr(VI) induced a transient burst of ERK activity (2-6-fold over control) around 0.5-3 h after exposure. However, inhibition of ERK activation with PD98059 had no effect on the Cr-induced alterations in gene expression. Moreover, Cr(VI)-induced clonogenic lethality, as assessed after 24 h exposure to 1 and 2 uM Cr(VI), was also not affected by ERK inhibition. These data suggest that both p53-dependent and -independent apoptotic and growth-inhibitory pathways are markedly affected by Cr(VI) exposure. However, the ability of Cr(VI) to affect key apoptotic and growth arresting genes, and thus clonogenic lethality, appears to be independent of ERK. Continued investigation into the cellular and molecular mechanisms of Cr(VI)-induced cell cycle and apoptosis control should further the understanding of Cr(VI)-associated carcinogenesis.

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