Arsenic concentration in topsoil of central Chile is associated with aberrant methylation of P53 gene in human blood cells: a cross-sectional study

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2022 Jul;29(32):48250-48259. doi: 10.1007/s11356-022-19085-2. Epub 2022 Feb 21.


Gene expression can be modified in people who are chronically exposed to high concentrations of heavy metals. The soil surrounding the Ventanas Industrial Complex, located on the coastal zone of Puchuncaví and Quintero townships (Chile), contain heavy metal concentrations (As, Cu, Pb, Zn, among others) that far exceed international standards. The aim of this study was to determine the potential association of the heavy metals in soils, especially arsenic, with the status of methylation of four tumor suppressor genes in permanent residents in those townships. To study the methylation status in genes p53, p16, APC, and RASSF1A, we took blood samples from adults living in areas near the industrial complex for at least 5 years and compared it to blood samples from adults living in areas with normal heavy metal concentrations of soils. Results indicated that inhabitants of an area with high levels of heavy metals in soil have a significantly higher proportion of methylation in the promoter region of the p53 tumor suppressor gene compared with control areas (p-value: 0.0035). This is the first study to consider associations between heavy metal exposure in humans and aberrant DNA methylation in Chile. Our results suggest more research to support consistent decision-making on processes of environmental remediation or prevention of exposure.

Keywords: DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Heavy metal; Soil pollution.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arsenic* / analysis
  • Blood Cells / chemistry
  • Chile
  • China
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Genes, p53
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy* / analysis
  • Methylation
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants* / analysis
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Arsenic

Grants and funding