Interaction of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon compounds in fish primary hepatocytes: From molecular mechanisms to genotoxic effects

Isabella Bramatti, Beatriz Matos, Neusa Figueiredo, Pedro Pousão-Ferreira, Vasco Branco, Marta Martins

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are persistent pollutants normally found in the environment as complex mixtures. Although several individual PAHs are classified as mutagenic and carcinogenic pollutants, the interaction effects between compounds in a mixture may trigger different toxicological mechanisms and, consequently, yield different effects to organisms which are not accounted for in risk assessment guidelines. Given the ubiquity of PAHs, understanding the mechanistic features of their mixtures is a pressing research need. Therefore, the present work aimed to disclose the interaction effects of three PAHs with different carcinogenic potential and chemical structure, in primary hepatocyte cells of gilt-headed seabreams (Sparus aurata). Hepatocytes were exposed to Phenanthrene (Phe), Benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P) and Benzo[b]fluoranthene (B[b]F) and their mixtures at different proportions and several cellular responses were analyzed: cellular viability, CYP1A1 activity (EROD assay) and protein expression level (Western blot); transcript (mRNA) levels of CYP1A1, EPXH1 and GST-3 (qRT-PCR); genotoxic effects (DNA strand breakage) by the Comet assay. Results show that B[a]P induced CYP1A1 gene and protein expression increasing its activity and, therefore, increasing the production of metabolites that trigger genotoxic DNA damage (%). Most importantly, mixtures containing Phe and B[a]P increased even further CYP1A1 mRNA levels and DNA damage (up to 70 %) which suggests that, although Phe is considered a non-carcinogenic PAH, it potentiates CYP1A1 synthesis induced by B[a]P, increasing its genotoxicity. These findings indicate that the upregulation of CYP1A1 by carcinogenic PAHs will not weaken even when in mixtures with non-carcinogenic PAHs. On contrary, non-carcinogenic PAHs may potentiate the genotoxic effect of carcinogenic PAH and therefore mixture composition should be taken in account when assessing PAH toxicity. In fact, our results point to the need of redefining Environmental Risk Assessment protocols for mixtures of carcinogenic pollutants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number158783
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2023


  • Benzo[a]pyrene
  • Benzo[b]fluoranthene
  • CYP1A1
  • DNA strand breakage
  • Phenanthrene


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