Hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)), also known as chromate, is a major public health concern. Chromates, particularly the insoluble compounds, are well-established human lung carcinogens. Our study focuses on investigating the mechanisms of Cr(VI)-induced carcinogenesis, which are currently unknown. Recent studies indicate that particulate Cr(VI) induces chromosome instability, which is a hallmark of human lung tumors. However, how Cr(VI) induces chromosome instability is poorly understood. Our preliminary data show that chronic exposure to particulate Cr(VI) induces a DNA repair deficient phenotype that underlies the chromosome instability, and thus, the goal of this research is to characterize this repair deficiency and its impact and understand the mechanisms that cause it to occur. We will test the hypothesis that particulate Cr(VI) induces epigenetic changes inactivating homologous recombination repair of Cr(VI)-induced DNA double strand breaks resulting in increased chromosome instability and carcinogenesis. We will test this hypothesis through four interrelated specific aims.
Aim 1 will characterize the homologous recombination repair defect and show that particulate Cr(VI) causes cells to inactivate Rad51-mediated response and switch to lower fidelity non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) repair using immunoblotting, immunofluorescence and repair assays.
Aim 2 will show that the cells with particulate Cr(VI)-inactivated Rad51 response acquire chromosome instability and undergo neoplastic transformation using cytogenetic techniques and assays for contact- uninhibited and anchorage independent growth.
Aim 3 will identify an epigenetic change (increased acetylation) that causes the loss of Rad51 response by affecting E2F1, ATM, Rad51C and Rad51 with assays for acetylation status, gene expression, and protein interactions and localization. Finally, Aim 4 will characterize the mechanism for particulate Cr(VI)-induced acetylation changes studying Cr(VI) binding to acetyl groups using assays for acetylation and histone deacetylase activity.
Each aim will focus on human lung cells and confirm key findings in human Cr(VI) tumors. Results will lead to the first reports of detailed information of the interactions of Cr(VI with DNA double strand break machinery, acetylation status and the first characterizations of these aspects in tumors from Cr(VI)-exposed workers. This research is significant because it will provide: 1) An understanding of particulate Cr(VI)'s carcinogenic mechanism;2) Essential information to better assess the risk of exposure to particulates;and 3) A mechanistic approach for further study of Cr(VI), other metals, and lung cancer in general.

Public Health Relevance

Hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) is a human lung carcinogen with widespread occupational and environmental exposure. How Cr(VI) causes human cancer is unknown. Our study advances our basic understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying how Cr(VI) causes cancer and informs us about how cells protect against Cr(VI)-induced genomic instability. Our findings will help us identify new potential treatment targets and approaches to reduce or prevent Cr(VI)-induced lung cancer and to better assess the risk of exposure to this major public health concern. Finally, we will have established a mechanistic model in a human lung cell system that will allow us to conduct studies for other factors important for preventing human lung cancer both generally and by Cr(VI) and other agents.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
Program Officer
Tyson, Frederick L
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Southern Maine
Other Basic Sciences
Other Specialized Schools
United States
Zip Code
Wise, Sandra S; Aboueissa, Abou El-Makarim; Martino, Julieta et al. (2018) Hexavalent Chromium-Induced Chromosome Instability Drives Permanent and Heritable Numerical and Structural Changes and a DNA Repair-Deficient Phenotype. Cancer Res 78:4203-4214
Speer, Rachel M; Wise, Catherine F; Young, Jamie L et al. (2018) The cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of particulate and soluble hexavalent chromium in leatherback sea turtle lung cells. Aquat Toxicol 198:149-157
Wise Jr, John Pierce; Wise, James T F; Wise, Catherine F et al. (2018) A three year study of metal levels in skin biopsies of whales in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil crisis. Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol 205:15-25
Browning, Cynthia L; Wise, Catherine F; Wise Sr, John Pierce (2017) Prolonged particulate chromate exposure does not inhibit homologous recombination repair in North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) lung cells. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 331:18-23
Browning, Cynthia L; Wise Sr, John Pierce (2017) Prolonged exposure to particulate chromate inhibits RAD51 nuclear import mediator proteins. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 331:101-107
Browning, Cynthia L; Qin, Qin; Kelly, Deborah F et al. (2016) Prolonged Particulate Hexavalent Chromium Exposure Suppresses Homologous Recombination Repair in Human Lung Cells. Toxicol Sci 153:70-8
Wise, Sandra S; Wise, Catherine; Xie, Hong et al. (2016) Hexavalent chromium is cytotoxic and genotoxic to American alligator cells. Aquat Toxicol 171:30-6
Wise, Sandra S; Holmes, Amie L; Liou, Louis et al. (2016) Hexavalent chromium induces chromosome instability in human urothelial cells. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 296:54-60
Carnero, Amancio; Blanco-Aparicio, Carmen; Kondoh, Hiroshi et al. (2015) Disruptive chemicals, senescence and immortality. Carcinogenesis 36 Suppl 1:S19-37
Xie, Hong; Holmes, Amie L; Wise, Sandra S et al. (2015) Human Skin Cells Are More Sensitive than Human Lung Cells to the Cytotoxic and Cell Cycle Arresting Impacts of Particulate and Soluble Hexavalent Chromium. Biol Trace Elem Res 166:49-56

Showing the most recent 10 out of 32 publications