Arsenic exposure from drinking water is associated with decreased gene expression and increased DNA methylation in peripheral blood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background Exposure to inorganic arsenic increases the risk of cancer and non-malignant diseases. Inefficient arsenic metabolism is a marker for susceptibility to arsenic toxicity. Arsenic may alter gene expression, possibly by altering DNA methylation. Objectives To elucidate the associations between arsenic exposure, gene expression, and DNA methylation in peripheral blood, and the modifying effects of arsenic metabolism. Methods The study participants, women from the Andes, Argentina, were exposed to arsenic via drinking water. Arsenic exposure was assessed as the sum of arsenic metabolites in urine (U-As), using high performance liquid-chromatography hydride-generation inductively-coupled-plasma-mass-spectrometry, and arsenic metabolism efficiency was assessed by the urinary fractions (%) of the individual metabolites. Genome-wide gene expression (N = 80 women) and DNA methylation (N = 93; 80 overlapping with gene expression) in peripheral blood were measured using Illumina DirectHyb HumanHT-12 v4.0 and Infinium Human-Methylation 450K BeadChip, respectively. Results U-As concentrations, ranging 10–1251 μg/L, was associated with decreased gene expression: 64% of the top 1000 differentially expressed genes were down-regulated with increasing U-As. U-As was also associated with hypermethylation: 87% of the top 1000 CpGs were hypermethylated with increasing U-As. The expression of six genes and six individual CpG sites were significantly associated with increased U-As concentration. Pathway analyses revealed enrichment of genes related to cell death and cancer. The pathways differed somewhat depending on arsenic metabolism efficiency. We found no overlap between arsenic-related gene expression and DNA methylation for individual genes. Conclusions Increased arsenic exposure was associated with lower gene expression and hypermethylation in peripheral blood, but with no evident overlap.


  • Syeda Shegufta Ameer
  • Karin Engström
  • Bakhtiar Hossain
  • Gabriela Concha
  • Marie Vahter
  • Karin Broberg
External organisations
  • Karolinska Institutet
  • National Food Agency
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Pharmacology and Toxicology


  • Arsenic metabolism efficiency, Cancer, Epigenetic, Genome-wide, Pathway analyses
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-66
Number of pages10
JournalToxicology and Applied Pharmacology
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Apr 15
Publication categoryResearch