Blood gene expression profiling detects silica exposure and toxicity

Toxicol Sci. 2011 Aug;122(2):253-64. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfr125. Epub 2011 May 19.


Blood gene expression profiling was investigated as a minimally invasive surrogate approach to detect silica exposure and resulting pulmonary toxicity. Rats were exposed by inhalation to crystalline silica (15 mg/m³, 6 h/day, 5 days), and pulmonary damage and blood gene expression profiles were determined after latency periods (0-16 weeks). Silica exposure resulted in pulmonary toxicity as evidenced by histological and biochemical changes in the lungs. The number of significantly differentially expressed genes in the blood, identified by microarray analysis, correlated with the severity of silica-induced pulmonary toxicity. Functional analysis of the differentially expressed genes identified activation of inflammatory response as the major biological signal. Induction of pulmonary inflammation, as suggested by the blood gene expression data, was supported by significant increases in the number of macrophages and infiltrating neutrophils as well as the activity of pro-inflammatory chemokines observed in the lungs of the silica-exposed rats. A gene expression signature developed using the blood gene expression data predicted the exposure of rats to lower, minimally toxic and nontoxic concentrations of silica. Taken together, our findings suggest the potential application of peripheral blood gene expression profiling as a minimally invasive surrogate approach to detect pulmonary toxicity induced by silica in the rat. However, further research is required to determine the potential application of our findings specifically to monitor human exposure to silica and the resulting pulmonary effects.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Lung / drug effects*
  • Lung / pathology
  • Male
  • Microarray Analysis
  • Pneumonia / chemically induced*
  • Pneumonia / pathology
  • RNA, Messenger / blood
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Silicon Dioxide / toxicity*


  • Biomarkers
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Silicon Dioxide