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Int J Oncol. 1998 Sep;13(3):557-63.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons enhance terminal cell death of human ectocervical cells.

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Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are a class of chemical carcinogens whose active metabolites form DNA adducts, resulting in specific mutational events. The tumor suppressor protein p53 is believed to play a pivotal role in the ability of cells to response to DNA damage, resulting in either cell cycle arrest in G1 or apoptosis under conditions of excessive damage. This growth inhibition is associated with the concomitant induction of p53 and enhanced terminal cell differentiation. In this study we evaluated the effects of PAH on cell growth, cell differentiation, xenobiotic metabolism, and DNA adduct levels in normal ectocervical epithelial cells (ECE) and compared them to cervical cells whose p53 have been inactivated either by binding to viral HPV E6 oncogene (ECE16-1) or by mutation (C33A). The PAH 3-methylcholanthrene (3MC) inhibited normal ECE and to a lesser extent ECE16-1 cell proliferation. Not only did the growth inhibition occur at lower concentrations in the normal cells but the extent of inhibition was also greater in normal as compared to immortalized cells. Benzanthracene (BA) had a minor effect on normal ECE cells with no effect on immortalized ECE16-1 cells. C33A cell growth was unaffected by 3MC and BA. Terminal cell death was enhanced only in normal ECE cells as evidenced by increased envelope formation and was paralleled by an increase in the level of p53 following 3MC treatment. The differentiation status of the 3MC-treated cells was similar to untreated cells as indicated by three independent markers of cell differentiation; transglutaminase, involucrin, keratin expression. There was no difference in the pattern or level of DNA adducts formed in normal and immortalized cells following 3MC treatment. In addition the basal level of metabolism of 14C-BaP to phenols, diols and quinnones was unaltered by pretreatment with either 3MC or BA. These results demonstrate that immortalized cervical cells are less sensitive to toxicant damage [i.e. cell proliferation and terminal differentiation], and as a result, immortalized cells proliferate in the presence of genotoxic damage and are at increased risk for mutations and cancer.

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