Transient and permanent changes in DNA methylation patterns in inorganic arsenic-mediated epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2017 Sep 15;331:6-17. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2017.03.017. Epub 2017 Mar 21.


Chronic low dose inorganic arsenic exposure causes cells to take on an epithelial-to-mesenchymal phenotype, which is a crucial process in carcinogenesis. Inorganic arsenic is not a mutagen and thus epigenetic alterations have been implicated in this process. Indeed, during the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, morphologic changes to cells correlate with changes in chromatin structure and gene expression, ultimately driving this process. However, studies on the effects of inorganic arsenic exposure/withdrawal on the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and the impact of epigenetic alterations in this process are limited. In this study we used high-resolution microarray analysis to measure the changes in DNA methylation in cells undergoing inorganic arsenic-induced epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, and on the reversal of this process, after removal of the inorganic arsenic exposure. We found that cells exposed to chronic, low-dose inorganic arsenic exposure showed 30,530 sites were differentially methylated, and with inorganic arsenic withdrawal several differential methylated sites were reversed, albeit not completely. Furthermore, these changes in DNA methylation mainly correlated with changes in gene expression at most sites tested but not at all. This study suggests that DNA methylation changes on gene expression are not clear-cut and provide a platform to begin to uncover the relationship between DNA methylation and gene expression, specifically within the context of inorganic arsenic treatment.

Keywords: DNA methylation; EMT; Epigenetics; Infinium MethylationEPIC BeadChip; Inorganic arsenic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • CpG Islands / drug effects
  • CpG Islands / physiology
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects*
  • DNA Methylation / physiology
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / drug effects*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / physiology
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans


  • Arsenic