Anyone who’s gotten too close while pouring an RNA gel knows the eye-burning, nose-hair-singeing bite of formaldehyde fumes. Even outside the lab, we breathe in trace levels of formaldehyde released from car exhaust and manufacturing processes. Now researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have uncovered changes in miRNA expression of lung cells exposed to formaldehyde, which could help explain the toxin’s nasty respiratory and carcinogenic effects.
The team treated human lung epithelial cells with gaseous formaldehyde and then identified changes in miRNA expression by microarray analysis. The highlights:
- Formaldehyde exposure down-regulated 89 miRNAs in human lung cells
- The predicted mRNA targets were involved in signaling pathways related to cancer, inflammation, and endocrine system regulation
- Interleukin-8, an inflammatory cytokine in a signaling pathway affected by the downregulated miRNAs, showed increased expression in formaldehyde-treated cells
The researchers still need to sort out if and how the altered miRNA expression patterns lead to formaldehyde-linked diseases like asthma and cancer. But in the meantime, this study provides another example of an environmental exposure (like this one we recently featured on nickel exposure) that drives epigenetic changes, which may result in disease.
So take a deep breath (preferably, of formaldehyde-free air), and dive into this paper at Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2011.