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Characterization of changes in gene expression and biochemical pathways at low levels of benzene exposure.

  • Author(s): Thomas, Reuben
  • Hubbard, Alan
  • McHale, Cliona
  • Zhang, Luoping
  • Rappaport, Stephen
  • Lan, Qing
  • Rothman, Nathaniel
  • Vermeulen, Roel
  • Guyton, Kathryn
  • Jinot, Jennifer
  • Sonawane, Babasaheb
  • Smith, Martyn T.
  • et al.
Abstract

Benzene, a ubiquitous environmental pollutant, causes acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Recently, through transcriptome profiling of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), we reported dose-dependent effects of benzene exposure on gene expression and biochemical pathways in 83 workers exposed across four airborne concentration ranges (from <1 ppm to >10 ppm) compared with 42 subjects with non-workplace ambient exposure levels. Here, we further characterize these dose-dependent effects with continuous benzene exposure in all 125 study subjects. We estimated air benzene exposure levels in the 42 environmentally-exposed subjects from their unmetabolized urinary benzene levels. We used a novel non-parametric, data-adaptive model selection method to estimate the change with dose in the expression of each gene. We describe non-parametric approaches to model pathway responses and used these to estimate the dose responses of the AML pathway and 4 other pathways of interest. The response patterns of majority of genes as captured by mean estimates of the first and second principal components of the dose-response for the five pathways and the profiles of 6 AML pathway response-representative genes (identified by clustering) exhibited similar apparent supra-linear responses. Responses at or below 0.1 ppm benzene were observed for altered expression of AML pathway genes and CYP2E1. Together, these data show that benzene alters disease-relevant pathways and genes in a dose-dependent manner, with effects apparent at doses as low as 100 ppb in air. Studies with extensive exposure assessment of subjects exposed in the low-dose range between 10 ppb and 1 ppm are needed to confirm these findings.

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