Chen T, Mally A, Ozden S, Chipman JK
BACKGROUND: Evidence of potent rodent carcinogenicity via an unclear mechanism suggests that furan in various foods [leading to an intake of up to 3.5 microg/kg body weight (bw)/day] may present a potential risk to human health. OBJECTIVES: We tested the hypothesis that altered expression of genes related to cell cycle control, apoptosis, and DNA damage may contribute to the carcinogenicity of furan in rodents. In addition, we investigated the reversibility of such changes and the potential role of epigenetic mechanisms in response to furan doses that approach the maximum estimated dietary intake in humans. METHODS: The mRNA expression profiles of genes related to cell cycle, apoptosis, and DNA damage in rat liver treated with furan concentrations of 0.1 and 2 mg/kg bw were measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) arrays. We assessed epigenetic changes by analysis of global and gene-specific DNA methylation [methylation-specific PCR, combined bisulfite restriction analysis (COBRA), and methylated DNA immunoprecipitation chip] and microRNA (miRNA) analyses. RESULTS: The expression profiles of apoptosis-related and cell-cycle-related genes were unchanged after 5 days of treatment, although we observed a statistically significant change in the expression of genes related to cell cycle control and apoptosis, but not DNA damage, after 4 weeks of treatment. These changes were reversed after an off-dose period of 2 weeks. None of the gene expression changes was associated with a change in DNA methylation, although we detected minor changes in the miRNA expression profile (5 miRNA alterations out of 349 measured) that may have contributed to modification of gene expression in some cases. CONCLUSION: Nongenotoxic changes in gene expression may contribute to the carcinogenicity of furan in rodents. These findings highlight the need for a more comprehensive risk assessment of furan exposure in humans.