Background: Arsenic exposure impairs development and can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. The mechanism underlying these effects remains unknown. Primarily because of geologic sources of contamination, drinking-water arsenic levels are above the current recommended maximum contaminant level of 10 microg/L in the northeastern, western, and north central regions of the United States.
Objectives: We investigated the effects of arsenic exposure, defined by internal biomarkers at levels relevant to the United States and similarly exposed populations, on gene expression.
Methods: We conducted separate Affymetrix microarray-based genomewide analyses of expression patterns. Peripheral blood lymphocyte samples from 21 controls interviewed (1999-2002) as part of a case-control study in New Hampshire were selected based on high- versus low-level arsenic exposure levels.
Results: The biologic functions of the transcripts that showed statistically significant abundance differences between high- and low-arsenic exposure groups included an overrepresentation of genes involved in defense response, immune function, cell growth, apoptosis, regulation of cell cycle, T-cell receptor signaling pathway, and diabetes. Notably, the high-arsenic exposure group exhibited higher levels of several killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors that inhibit natural killer cell activity.
Conclusions: These findings define biologic changes that occur with chronic arsenic exposure in humans and provide leads and potential targets for understanding and monitoring the pathogenesis of arsenic-induced diseases.
Keywords: U.S. population; arsenic; drinking water; immune response; lymphocytes; microarray.