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Environ Res. 2019 Nov;178:108680. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.108680. Epub 2019 Aug 19.

A metabolomics study on effects of polyaromatic compounds in oil sand extracts on the respiratory, hepatic and nervous systems using three human cell lines.

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University of Ottawa, Department of Biology, Ottawa, K1N 6N5, ON, Canada.
University of Ottawa, Department of Biology, Ottawa, K1N 6N5, ON, Canada. Electronic address:


Polyaromatic compounds (PACs) are by-products of combustion and are the major pollutants from the oil and gas industry. However, the mechanism of PACs induced toxicity still remains elusive. The aim of this study was to elucidate the effects of a typical mixture of PACs found in oil sand extract (OSE) on the respiratory, hepatic and nervous systems in humans using in vitro cell culture models followed by non-targeted metabolomics analysis. OSE collected from Alberta, Canada was fractionated into PAC and alkane fractions, and their effects after 24 h exposure on the cell viability measured by MTT assay in three human cell lines (A549, HepG2, and SK-N-SH) were studied. The PAC fractions showed significant dose-dependent cytotoxicity. A549 cells showed the highest sensitivity to OSE extracts, followed by SK-N-SH and HepG2. In contrast, the alkane fractions showed no effects on cell viability. The three human cell lines were further exposed with the PACs at 10% and 20% lethal concentration for 24 h. Metabolomics analysis of the cell extracts indicated that PACs treatments showed different disruptions on possible metabolic pathways on the three cell lines. PACs altered the sex steroid hormone metabolism and regulated the levels of leukotrienes metabolites in all three cell types. The amino acids L-cysteine, L-glutamine, L-tyrosine that are known to cause respiratory effects were significantly up-regulated in A549 cells. The PACs treated HepG2 cells showed down-regulation in metabolites responsible for the inflammatory mediation. Treatment of the differentiated SK-N-SH cells showed up-regulated metabolites involved with butanoate, fatty acid, and pyrimidine metabolism. Leukotriene metabolites were found to be significantly increased in all PACs treated cells. In conclusion, our results showed that PACs in OSE can alter the metabolism of the human lung, liver and neuronal cells and may induce toxicity in multiple target organs.


A549 cells; HepG2 cells; Metabolomics; Oil sand extract; Polyaromatic compounds; SK-N-SH cells

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