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  • Human lung epithelial cells cultured in the presence of radon-emitting rock experience gene expression changes similar to those associated with tobacco smoke exposure.

Human lung epithelial cells cultured in the presence of radon-emitting rock experience gene expression changes similar to those associated with tobacco smoke exposure.

Journal of environmental radioactivity (2018-11-06)
Julie J Loiselle, Jose M Knee, Leslie C Sutherland
ABSTRACT

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after tobacco smoke. While tobacco smoke-induced carcinogenesis has been studied extensively, far less is known about radon-induced carcinogenesis, particularly in relation to the influence of radon on gene expression. The objectives of the work described herein were to (a) determine if and how exposure to low dose radon-emitting rock influences cells, at the gene expression level, and (b) compare any gene expression changes resulting from the exposure to radon-emitting rock with those induced by exposure to tobacco smoke. Any potential radiation-induced gene expression changes were also compared to those induced by exposure to cannabis smoke, a non-carcinogen at low doses, used here as a smoke exposure comparator. Human lung epithelial cells were exposed to radon-emitting rock, tobacco smoke or cannabis smoke, over months, and RNA-sequencing was carried out. We found that the rock-exposed cells experienced significant gene expression changes, particularly of the gene AKR1C3, and that these changes, over time, increasingly reflected those associated with exposure to tobacco, but not cannabis, smoke. We postulate that the early gene expression changes common to both the radiation and tobacco smoke exposures constitute a related - potentially pre-carcinogenic - response. Our findings suggest that the length of time a dividing population of cells is exposed to a constant low concentration of radon (with a potential cumulative absorbed dose) could be an important risk parameter for neoplastic transformation/carcinogenesis.