The molecular mechanisms of arsenic-induced cell transformation and apoptosis

Zigang Dong

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97 Scopus citations


Arsenic is a well-documented human carcinogen associated with cancers of the skin, lung, liver, and bladder. Interestingly, arsenic has also been used as an effective chemotherapeutic agent in the treatment of certain human cancers. However, the mechanisms by which arsenic induces proliferation of cancer cells or cancer cell death are not well understood. We found that exposure of JB6 P+ cells to low concentrations of arsenic induces cell transformation, whereas higher concentrations of arsenic induce cell apoptosis. Arsenite induces phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases (Eks) and c-Jun NH2-terminal kinases (JNKs). Arsenite-induced Erk activation was markedly inhibited by introduction of dominat-negative Erk2 into cells, whereas expression of dominant-negative Erk2 did not inhibit JNKs or mitogen-activated protein kinase Erk kinase 1/2. Furthermore, arsenite-induced cell transformation was blocked in cells expressing dominant-negative Erk2. In contrast, overexpression of dominant-negative JNK1 increased cell transformation even though it inhibited arsenite-induced JNK activation. Arsenic also induced AP-1 and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) activation. blocking NF-κB activation by dominant-negative inhibitory kappa Bα inhibited arsenic-induced apoptosis and enhanced arsenic-induced cell transformation. Arsenic induced activation of JNKs at a similar dose range that was effective for induction of apoptosis in JB6 cells. In addition, we found that arsenic did not induce p53-dependent transactivation. Similarly, apoptosis induction was not different between p53 wild-type (p53+/+ or p53-deficient (p53-/-) cells. In contrast, arsenic-induced apoptosis was almost totaly blocked by expression of a dominant-negative mutant of JNK. Taken together with previous findings that p53 mutations are involved in approximately 50% of all human cancers and nearly all chemotherapeutic agents kill cancer cells mainly by apoptotic induction, we suggest that arsenic may be a useful agent for the treatment of cancers with p53 mutations. These results suggest that the activation of Erks is required for arsenic-induced cell transformation, whereas the activation of JNKs and NF-κB is involved in arsenic-induced apoptosis of JB6 cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-759
Number of pages3
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue numberSUPPL. 5
StatePublished - Oct 2002


  • AP-1
  • Apoptosis
  • Arsenic
  • Cell transformation
  • MAP kinase
  • NF-κB
  • Signal transduction


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