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Toxicol Sci. 2009 Feb;107(2):416-26. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfn192. Epub 2008 Sep 8.

Investigating arsenic susceptibility from a genetic perspective in Drosophila reveals a key role for glutathione synthetase.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Genetics, Biochemistry, and Microbiology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, Ohio 45267-0524, USA.


Chronic exposure to arsenic-contaminated drinking water can lead to a variety of serious pathological outcomes. However, differential responsiveness within human populations suggests that interindividual genetic variation plays an important role. We are using Drosophila to study toxic metal response pathways because of unrivalled access to varied genetic approaches and significant demonstrable overlap with many aspects of mammalian physiology and disease phenotypes. Genetic analysis (via chromosomal segregation and microsatellite marker-based recombination) of various wild-type strains exhibiting relative susceptibility or tolerance to the lethal toxic effects of arsenite identified a limited X-chromosomal region (16D-F) able to confer a differential response phenotype. Using an FRT-based recombination approach, we created lines harboring small, overlapping deficiencies within this region and found that relative arsenite sensitivity arose when the dose of the glutathione synthetase (GS) gene (located at 16F1) was reduced by half. Knockdown of GS expression by RNA interference (RNAi) in cultured S2 cells led to enhanced arsenite sensitivity, while GS RNAi applied to intact organisms dramatically reduced the concentration of food-borne arsenite compatible with successful growth and development. Our analyses, initially guided by observations on naturally occurring variants, provide genetic proof that an optimally functioning two-step glutathione (GSH) biosynthetic pathway is required in vivo for a robust defense against arsenite; the enzymatic implications of this are discussed in the context of GSH supply and demand under arsenite-induced stress. Given an identical pathway for human GSH biosynthesis, we suggest that polymorphisms in GSH biosynthetic genes may be an important contributor to differential arsenic sensitivity and exposure risk in human populations.

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