Abstract: Exposure to environmental and occupational contaminants leads to lung cancer. 3-Nitrobenzanthrone (3-nitro-7H-benz[de]anthracen-7-one, 3-NBA) is a potential carcinogen in ambient air or diesel particulate matter. Studies have revealed that short-term exposure to 3-NBA induces cell death, reactive oxygen species activation, and DNA adduct formation and damage. However, details of the mechanism by which chronic exposure to 3-NBA influences lung carcinogenesis remain largely unknown. In this study, human lung epithelial BEAS-2B cells were continuously exposed to 0–10-μM 3-NBA for 6 months. NanoString analysis was conducted to evaluate gene expression in the cells, revealing that 3-NBA–mediated transformation results in a distinct gene expression signature including carbon cancer metabolism, metastasis, and angiogenesis. Alterations in tumor-promoting genes such as EREG (epiregulin), SOX9, E-cadherin, TWIST, and IL-6 were involved in epithelial cell aggressiveness. Kaplan–Meier plotter analyses indicated that increased EREG and IL-6 expressions in early-stage lung cancer cells are correlated with poor survival. In vivo xenografts on 3-NBA–transformed cells exhibited prominent tumor formation and metastasis. EREG knockout cells exposed to 3-NBA for a short period exhibited high apoptosis and low colony formation. By contrast, overexpression of EREG in 3-NBA–transformed cells markedly activated the PI3K/AKT and MEK/ERK signaling pathways, resulting in tumorigenicity. Furthermore, elevated IL-6 and EREG expressions synergistically led to STAT3 signaling activation, resulting in clonogenic cell survival and migration. Taken together, chronic exposure of human lung epithelial cells to 3-NBA leads to malignant transformation, in which the EREG signaling pathway plays a pivotal mediating role. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)865-887
Number of pages23
JournalCell Biology and Toxicology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • 3-Nitrobenzanthrone
  • Carcinogen
  • Epiregulin
  • Lung cancer
  • Transformation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Cell Biology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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