Effect of aflatoxin B 1, benzo[a]pyrene, and methapyrilene on transcriptomic and epigenetic alterations in human liver HepaRG cells

Food Chem Toxicol. 2018 Nov;121:214-223. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2018.08.034. Epub 2018 Aug 26.


The increasing number of man-made chemicals in the environment that may pose a carcinogenic risk highlights the need for developing reliable time- and cost-effective approaches for carcinogen detection and identification. To address this issue, we investigated the utility of high-throughput microarray gene expression and next-generation genome-wide DNA methylation sequencing for the in vitro identification of genotoxic and non-genotoxic carcinogens. Terminally differentiated and metabolically competent human liver HepaRG cells were treated at minimally cytotoxic concentrations of (i) the genotoxic human liver carcinogen aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) and its structural non-carcinogenic analog aflatoxin B2 (AFB2); (ii) the genotoxic human lung carcinogen benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P) and its non-carcinogenic isomer benzo[e]pyrene (B[e]P); and (iii) the non-genotoxic liver carcinogen methapyrilene for 72 h and transcriptomic and DNA methylation profiles were examined. Treatment of HepaRG cells with the liver carcinogens AFB1 and methapyrilene generated distinct gene-expression profiles, whereas B[a]P had only a slight effect on gene expression. In contrast to transcriptomic alterations, treatment of HepaRG cells with the carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic chemicals resulted in profound changes in the DNA methylation footprint; however, the correlation between gene-specific DNA methylation and gene expression changes was minimal. Among the carcinogen-altered genes, transferrin (TF) emerged as sensitive marker for an initial screening of chemicals for their potential liver carcinogenicity. Potential liver carcinogens (i.e., chemicals causing altered TF gene expression) could then be subjected to gene-expression analyses to differentiate genotoxic from non-genotoxic liver carcinogens. This approach may substantially enhance the identification and assessment of potential liver carcinogens.

Keywords: Carcinogens; DNA methylation; Gene expression; In vitro; Transferrin.

MeSH terms

  • Aflatoxin B1 / toxicity*
  • Benzo(a)pyrene / toxicity*
  • Cell Line
  • DNA Adducts
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes
  • Humans
  • Methapyrilene / toxicity*
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Techniques
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Stem Cells
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Transcriptome


  • DNA Adducts
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • Aflatoxin B1
  • Methapyrilene