Study Sheds Light on Mechanisms Driving Cancer Induced by Organic Solvent Used in Printing Industry

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1,2-Dichloropropane (1,2-DCP) is a synthetic organic solvent used in the printing industry. It was linked to cholangiocarcinoma in 2013, when printing company employees in Osaka, Japan, exposed to 1,2-DCP were diagnosed with the cancer. Thereafter, the International Agency for Research on Cancer reclassified 1,2-DCP as being carcinogenic to humans, and many studies have since focused on occupational cholangiocarcinoma after exposure to 1,2-DCP. To understand the genes influencing cholangiocarcinoma development, scientists examined gene-expression profiles in co-cultured cholangiocytes and macrophages exposed to 1,2-DCP. Their findings were published by Ekuban et al in the journal Scientific Reports.

Study Background

Common cholangiocarcinoma develops in the cholangiocytes (or epithelial cells) of the bile duct and liver. On the other hand, occupational cholangiocarcinoma has markedly different features, such as the presence of noncharacteristic precancerous lesions and inflammatory changes in the surrounding noncancerous tissue. Research suggests that while 1,2-DCP primarily targets cholangiocytes, it indirectly damages their DNA in the presence of macrophages. However, the exact mechanism of 1,2-DCP–induced cholangiocarcinoma remains a mystery.

To solve this problem, a group of researchers led by Gaku Ichihara, MD, PhD, of Tokyo University of Science (TUS), identified the gene-expression profiles of cholangiocytes co-cultured with macrophages and exposed to 1,2-DCP. Dr. Ichihara said, “Our findings identified the upregulation of genes tied to DNA repair and the cell cycle in cholangiocytes and macrophages, respectively. This suggests that the DNA damage, cell proliferation, and ultimately neoplasia occurring in the bile ducts is likely driven by the altered cell function induced by the abnormal gene expression.”

Study Details

Researchers co-cultured cholangiocytes and macrophages that were exposed to varying concentrations of 1,2-DCP for 24 hours. The concentrations selected mirrored the occupational exposure of workers in a poorly ventilated environment.

Dr. Ichihara’s previous work had shown that in the presence of macrophages, 1,2-DCP induced the expression of activation-induced cytidine deaminase, which is a DNA-mutating enzyme, along with excess DNA damage and reactive oxygen species production in cholangiocytes. To delve deeper, the team used transcriptomics to study the gene-expression patterns in the cells and identify the intracellular mechanisms driving carcinoma formation.

The data revealed that in the presence of 1,2-DCP, co-cultured cholangiocytes showed a higher expression of base excision repair genes, whereas macrophages revealed upregulation of cell-cycle genes. 

The upregulation of DNA repair genes suggests an increase in DNA damage as 1,2-DCP concentration increases. Furthermore, macrophages could proliferate at a given site following 1,2-DCP exposure. Since they play an important role in the regulation of inflammatory responses by releasing cytokines and signaling molecules, their overstimulation could result in the persistent production of these compounds, which ultimately influence various pathologic states and cancer,” explained Dr. Ichihara.

The implications of the study are far-reaching in the fields of environmental toxicology and occupational cancer prevention. The team’s findings show that it is possible to pinpoint how potential carcinogens promote cancer without directly damaging DNA. Dr. Ichihara and his team are confident they can build on their findings and design further studies to fully understand the cross talk between cholangiocytes and macrophages and elucidate the mechanisms behind the erroneous DNA damage repair in cholangiocytes.

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