Aryl-phosphorus-containing flame retardants induce oxidative stress, the p53-dependent DNA damage response and mitochondrial impairment in A549 cells

Environ Pollut. 2019 Jul:250:58-67. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2019.03.109. Epub 2019 Apr 4.


Aryl phosphorus-containing flame retardants (aryl-PFRs) have been frequently detected with increasingly used worldwide as one of alternatives for brominated flame retardants. However, information on their adverse effects on human health and ecosystem is insufficient, with limited study on their molecular mode of action in vitro. In this study, the cytotoxicity, DNA damage, mitochondrial impairment and the involved molecular mechanisms of certain frequently detectable aryl-PFRs, including 2-ethylhexyldiphenyl phosphate (EHDPP), methyl diphenyl phosphate (MDPP), bisphenol-A bis (diphenyl phosphate) (BDP), isodecyl diphenyl phosphate (IDPP), cresyl diphenyl phosphate (CDP) and the structurally similar and widely used organophosphorus pesticide chlorpyrifos (CPF), were evaluated in A549 cells using high-content screening (HCS) system. Aryl-PFRs showed different lethal concentration 50 (LC50) values ranging from 97.94 to 546.85 μM in A549 cells using CCK-8 assay. EHDPP, IDPP, CDP, MDPP and CPF demonstrated an ability to induce DNA damage, evidenced by increased DNA content and S phase-reducing cell cycle arrest effect using fluorophore dye cocktail assay. Additionally, the selected aryl-PFRs induced mitochondrial impairment by the increasing mitochondrial mass and decreasing mitochondrial membrane potential. Moreover, BDP, MDPP, and CDP, which contain short alkyl chains showed their potential oxidative stress with intracellular ROS and mitochondrial superoxide overproduction from an initially relatively low concentration. Additionally, based on the promotion of firefly luminescence in p53-transfected A549 cells, p53 activation was found to be involved in aryl-PFRs-induced DNA damage. Further real-time PCR results showed that all selected aryl-PFRs triggered p53/p21/gadd45β-, and p53/p21/mdm2-mediated cell cycle pathways, and the p53/bax mediated apoptosis pathway to induce DNA damage and cytotoxic effects. These results suggest that aryl-PFRs (e.g., BDP, MDPP, CDP) cause oxidative stress-mediated DNA damage and mitochondrial impairment, and p53-dependent pathway was involved in the aryl-PFRs-induced DNA damage and cell cycle arrest. In conclusion, this study improves the understanding of PFRs-induced adverse outcomes and the involved molecular mechanism.

Keywords: Gene expression; Mitochondrial damage; Phosphorus-containing flame retardants; Reactive oxygen species; p53 transfection.

MeSH terms

  • A549 Cells
  • DNA Damage*
  • Flame Retardants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Organophosphates / chemistry
  • Organophosphates / toxicity*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*


  • Flame Retardants
  • Organophosphates
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • diphenyl methyl phosphate