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Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Jun;117(6):981-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0900555. Epub 2009 Feb 22.

Perturbation of defense pathways by low-dose arsenic exposure in zebrafish embryos.

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  • 1Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, Salisbury Cove, Maine 04679, USA.



Exposure to arsenic is a critical risk factor in the complex interplay among genetics, the environment, and human disease. Despite the potential for in utero exposure, the mechanism of arsenic action on vertebrate development and disease is unknown.


The objective of this study was to identify genes and gene networks perturbed by arsenic during development in order to enhance understanding of the molecular mechanisms of arsenic action.


We exposed zebrafish embryos at 0.25-1.25 hr postfertilization to 10 or 100 ppb arsenic for 24 or 48 hr. We then used total RNA to interrogate genome microarrays and to test levels of gene expression changes by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (QPCR). Computational analysis was used to identify gene expression networks perturbed by arsenic during vertebrate development.


We identified a set of 99 genes that responded to low levels of arsenic. Nineteen of these genes were predicted to function in a common regulatory network that was significantly associated with immune response and cancer (p < 10(-41)). Arsenic-mediated expression changes were validated by QPCR.


In this study we demonstrated that arsenic significantly down-regulates expression levels of multiple genes potentially critical for regulating the establishment of an immune response. The data also provide molecular evidence consistent with phenotypic observations reported in other model systems. Additional mechanistic studies will help explain molecular events regulating early stages of the immune system and long-term consequences of arsenic-mediated perturbation of this system during development.


Comparative Toxicogenomics Database; arsenic; embryonic development; gene regulatory networks; immunity; microarray; toxicogenomics; transcriptional profiling; zebrafish

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