Avrum Spira, M.D.
Boston University Medical Campus
A study, funded in part by NIEHS, showed that non-smoking women living in rural China who burn smoky, or bituminous, coal for heating and cooking exhibited some gene expression patterns similar to those of active cigarette smokers. These results shed new light on the molecular mechanisms associated with smoky coal exposure and may eventually lead to the development of clinical biomarkers that could help detect or assess the risk of lung cancer in people exposed to smoky coal.
The high rate of lung cancer in some of China's rural counties has been linked to burning smoky coal. To better understand the molecular changes associated with exposure to burning coal, the researchers conducted genome-wide gene-expression profiling of cheek cells acquired from healthy, non-smoking females in China — 26 of the women burned smoky coal and nine used smokeless anthracite coal.
The researchers identified 282 genes expressed differently in women exposed to smoky coal compared to the smokeless kind. These gene expression changes correlated with household levels of fine particulate matter and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Some of the gene-expression changes observed in the women exposed to smoky coal were similar to those found in cigarette smokers, suggesting that tobacco smoke and smoky coal exposure elicit a similar molecular response in the airway epithelium.
Citation: Wang TW, Vermeulen RC, Hu W, Liu G, Xiao X, Alekseyev Y, Xu J, Reiss B, Steiling K, Downward GS, Silverman DT, Wei F, Wu G, Li J, Lenburg ME, Rothman N, Spira A, Lan Q. 2015. Gene-expression profiling of buccal epithelium among non-smoking women exposed to household air pollution from smoky coal. Carcinogenesis. 36(12):1494-1501.