Heterozygous germline BLM mutations increase susceptibility to asbestos and mesothelioma

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Dec 29;117(52):33466-33473. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2019652117. Epub 2020 Dec 14.


Rare biallelic BLM gene mutations cause Bloom syndrome. Whether BLM heterozygous germline mutations (BLM+/-) cause human cancer remains unclear. We sequenced the germline DNA of 155 mesothelioma patients (33 familial and 122 sporadic). We found 2 deleterious germline BLM+/- mutations within 2 of 33 families with multiple cases of mesothelioma, one from Turkey (c.569_570del; p.R191Kfs*4) and one from the United States (c.968A>G; p.K323R). Some of the relatives who inherited these mutations developed mesothelioma, while none with nonmutated BLM were affected. Furthermore, among 122 patients with sporadic mesothelioma treated at the US National Cancer Institute, 5 carried pathogenic germline BLM+/- mutations. Therefore, 7 of 155 apparently unrelated mesothelioma patients carried BLM+/- mutations, significantly higher (P = 6.7E-10) than the expected frequency in a general, unrelated population from the gnomAD database, and 2 of 7 carried the same missense pathogenic mutation c.968A>G (P = 0.0017 given a 0.00039 allele frequency). Experiments in primary mesothelial cells from Blm+/- mice and in primary human mesothelial cells in which we silenced BLM revealed that reduced BLM levels promote genomic instability while protecting from cell death and promoted TNF-α release. Blm+/- mice injected intraperitoneally with asbestos had higher levels of proinflammatory M1 macrophages and of TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-3, IL-10, and IL-12 in the peritoneal lavage, findings linked to asbestos carcinogenesis. Blm+/- mice exposed to asbestos had a significantly shorter survival and higher incidence of mesothelioma compared to controls. We propose that germline BLM+/- mutations increase the susceptibility to asbestos carcinogenesis, enhancing the risk of developing mesothelioma.

Keywords: BLM; asbestos; genetics; gene–environment; mesothelioma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Asbestos, Crocidolite
  • Asbestosis / genetics*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genomic Instability
  • Germ-Line Mutation / genetics*
  • Heterozygote
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Male
  • Mesothelioma / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Middle Aged
  • RecQ Helicases / genetics*


  • Asbestos, Crocidolite
  • Bloom syndrome protein
  • RecQ Helicases