U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 253 (2011) 178–187; doi:10.1016/j.taap.2011.04.002


Tungsten-alloy has carcinogenic potential as demonstrated by cancer development in rats with intramuscular implanted tungsten-alloy pellets. This suggests a potential involvement of epigenetic events previously implicated as environmental triggers of cancer. Here, we tested metal induced cytotoxicity and epigenetic modifications including H3 acetylation, H3-Ser10 phosphorylation and H3-K4 trimethylation. We exposed human embryonic kidney (HEK293), human neuroepithelioma(SKNMC), and mousemyoblast (C2C12) cultures for 1-day and hippocampal primary neuronal cultures for 1-week to 50–200 μg/ml of tungsten-alloy (91% tungsten/6% nickel/3% cobalt), tungsten, nickel, and cobalt. We also examined the potential role of intracellular calcium in metal mediated histone modifications by addition of calciumchannel blockers/chelators to the metal solutions. Tungsten and its alloy showed cytotoxicity at concentrations N50 μg/ml, while we found significant toxicity with cobalt and nickel for most tested concentrations. Diverse cell-specific toxic effects were observed, with C2C12 being relatively resistant to tungsten-alloy mediated toxic impact. Tungsten-alloy, but not tungsten, caused almost complete dephosphorylation of H3-Ser10 in C2C12 and hippocampal primary neuronal cultures with H3-hypoacetylation in C2C12. Dramatic H3-Ser10 dephosphorylation was found in all cobalt treated cultures with a decrease in H3 pan-acetylation in C2C12, SKNMC and HEK293. Trimethylation of H3-K4 was not affected. Both tungsten-alloy and cobalt mediated H3-Ser10 dephosphorylation were reversed with BAPTA-AM, highlighting the role of intracellular calcium, confirmedwith 2-photon calciumimaging. In summary, our results for the first time reveal epigeneticmodifications triggered by tungsten-alloy exposure in C2C12 and hippocampal primary neuronal cultures suggesting the underlying synergistic effects of tungsten, nickel and cobalt mediated by changes in intracellular calcium homeostasis and buffering.