Malignant mesothelioma as an oxidative stress-induced cancer: An update

Free Radic Biol Med. 2015 Sep;86:166-78. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2015.05.002. Epub 2015 May 11.


Malignant mesothelioma (MM) is a relatively rare cancer that occurs almost exclusively following respiratory exposure to asbestos in humans. Its pathogenesis is closely associated with iron overload and oxidative stress in mesothelial cells. On fiber exposure, mesothelial cells accumulate fibers simultaneously with iron, which either performs physical scissor function or catalyzes free radical generation, leading to oxidative DNA damage such as strand breaks and base modifications, followed by activation of intracellular signaling pathways. Chrysotile, per se without iron, causes massive hemolysis and further adsorbs hemoglobin. Exposure to indigestible foreign materials also induces chronic inflammation, involving consistent generation of free radicals and subsequent activation of NALP3 inflammasomes in macrophages. All of these contribute to mesothelial carcinogenesis. Genomic alterations most frequently involve homozygous deletion of INK4A/4B, and other pathways such as Hippo and TGF-β pathways are also affected in MM. Recently, analyses of familial MM sorted out BAP1 as a novel responsible tumor suppressor gene, whose function is not fully elucidated. Five-year survival of mesothelioma is still ~8%, and this cancer is increasing worldwide. Connective tissue growth factor, a secretory protein creating a vicious cycle mediated by β-catenin, has been recognized as a hopeful target for therapy, especially in sarcomatoid subtype. Recent research outcomes related to microRNAs and cancer stem cells also offer additional novel targets for the treatment of MM. Iron reduction as chemoprevention of mesothelioma is helpful at least in an animal preclinical study. Integrated approaches to fiber-induced oxidative stress would be necessary to overcome this currently fatal disease.

Keywords: Asbestos; Cancer stem cell; Iron; Malignant mesothelioma; MicroRNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asbestos / toxicity
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • DNA Damage
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Mesothelioma / diagnosis
  • Mesothelioma / etiology
  • Mesothelioma / metabolism*
  • Mesothelioma, Malignant
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Asbestos