Skip Navigation
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Your Environment. Your Health.

Publication Detail

Title: Nickel exposure induces persistent mesenchymal phenotype in human lung epithelial cells through epigenetic activation of ZEB1.

Authors: Jose, Cynthia C; Jagannathan, Lakshmanan; Tanwar, Vinay S; Zhang, Xiaoru; Zang, Chongzhi; Cuddapah, Suresh

Published In Mol Carcinog, (2018 06)

Abstract: Nickel (Ni) is an environmental and occupational carcinogen, and exposure to Ni is associated with lung and nasal cancers in humans. Furthermore, Ni exposure is implicated in several lung diseases including chronic inflammatory airway diseases, asthma, and fibrosis. However, the mutagenic potential of Ni is low and does not correlate with its potent toxicity and carcinogenicity. Therefore, mechanisms underlying Ni exposure-associated diseases remain poorly understood. Since the health risks of environmental exposures often continue post exposure, understanding the exposure effects that persist after the termination of exposure could provide mechanistic insights into diseases. By examining the persistent effects of Ni exposure, we report that Ni induces epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and that the mesenchymal phenotype remains irreversible even after the termination of exposure. Ni-induced EMT was dependent on the irreversible upregulation of ZEB1, an EMT master regulator, via resolution of its promoter bivalency. ZEB1, upon activation, downregulated its repressors as well as the cell-cell adhesion molecule, E-cadherin, resulting in the cells undergoing EMT and switching to persistent mesenchymal status. ZEB1 depletion in cells exposed to Ni attenuated Ni-induced EMT. Moreover, Ni exposure did not induce EMT in ZEB1-depleted cells. Activation of EMT, during which the epithelial cells lose cell-cell adhesion and become migratory and invasive, plays a major role in asthma, fibrosis, and cancer and metastasis, lung diseases associated with Ni exposure. Therefore, our finding of irreversible epigenetic activation of ZEB1 by Ni exposure and the acquisition of persistent mesenchymal phenotype would have important implications in understanding Ni-induced diseases.

PubMed ID: 29528143 Exiting the NIEHS site

MeSH Terms: Cell Hypoxia; Cell Line; Cell Line, Tumor; Cell Survival/drug effects; Cell Survival/genetics; Epigenesis, Genetic/drug effects*; Epithelial Cells/drug effects*; Epithelial Cells/metabolism; Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition/drug effects*; Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition/genetics; Gene Expression Profiling; Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic/drug effects*; Humans; Nickel/pharmacology*; Phenotype; RNA Interference; Zinc Finger E-box-Binding Homeobox 1/genetics*; Zinc Finger E-box-Binding Homeobox 1/metabolism

to Top