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Toxicology. 2004 Sep 1;201(1-3):153-72.

Differential effects of mercury, lead and copper on the constitutive and inducible expression of aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR)-regulated genes in cultured hepatoma Hepa 1c1c7 cells.

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  • 1Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alta., T6G 2N8, Canada.


Both simultaneous and sequential exposure to heavy metals and aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR)-ligands potentially occur in human populations, yet there have been relatively few studies of combined effects of heavy metals and AHR-ligands on AHR-regulated genes. To investigate the effects of heavy metals on AHR-regulated genes; cytochrome P450 1a1 (cyp1a1), NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase (QOR) and glutathione S-transferase Ya (GST Ya), murine hepatoma Hepa 1c1c7 cells were incubated with increasing concentrations of Hg2+ (2.5-10 microM), Pb2+ (10-100 microM), and Cu2+ (1-100 microM) alone or with the AHR-ligand, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (0.1 nM), 3-methylcholanthrene (0.25 microM), beta-naphthoflavone (10 microM), or benzo[a]pyrene (1 microM). The results clearly showed that metals alone did not significantly alter the cyp1a1 activity and protein levels but increased its mRNA expression, whereas a significant reduction in AHR ligand-mediated induction of cyp1a1 activity was observed by all metals. The decrease in cyp1a1 activity was associated with an increase, no change, or decrease in cyp1a1 mRNA and protein levels by Hg2+, Pb2+ and Cu2+ respectively, suggesting pre- and post-transcription mechanisms are involved. With respect to QOR, the activity and mRNA levels were increased by all metals in the absence or presence of an AHR-ligand, with the exception of Cu2+ which significantly decreased the induction of QOR. Differently, GST Ya activity was significantly increased by Cu2+ and Pb2+ and inhibited by Hg2+, while its mRNA was increased by Hg2+ and Pb2+ and decreased by Cu2+. All metals significantly increased the expression of heme oxygenase-1, which coincided with the changes in the phase I and phase II enzyme activities. These results demonstrate that heavy metals differentially modulate the constitutive and the inducible expression of AHR-regulated genes.

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