Open Access Research article

Pathways affected by asbestos exposure in normal and tumour tissue of lung cancer patients

Salla Ruosaari12*, Tuija Hienonen-Kempas1, Anne Puustinen3, Virinder K Sarhadi1, Jaakko Hollmén2, Sakari Knuutila4, Juha Saharinen56, Harriet Wikman17 and Sisko Anttila14

Author Affiliations

1 Biological Mechanisms and Prevention of Work-related Diseases, Health and Work Ability, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Topeliuksenkatu 41aA, FI-00250 Helsinki, Finland

2 Department of Information and Computer Science, Helsinki University of Technology, Konemiehentie, Espoo, Finland

3 Unit of Excellence for Immunotoxicology, Health and Work Ability, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Topeliuksenkatu, Helsinki, Finland

4 Department of Pathology, Haartman Institute, University of Helsinki, and HUSLAB, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Haartmaninkatu, Helsinki, Finland

5 Department of Molecular Medicine, National Public Health Institute, Mannerheimintie, Helsinki, Finland

6 Biomedicum Bioinformatics Unit, Biomedicum, Haartmaninkatu, Helsinki, Finland

7 Department of Tumor Biology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistrasse, Hamburg, Germany

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BMC Medical Genomics 2008, 1:55  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-1-55

Published: 11 November 2008



Studies on asbestos-induced tumourigenesis have indicated the role of, e.g., reactive oxygen/nitrogen species, mitochondria, as well as NF-κB and MAPK signalling pathways. The exact molecular mechanisms contributing to asbestos-mediated carcinogenesis are, however, still to be characterized.


In this study, gene expression data analyses together with gene annotation data from the Gene Ontology (GO) database were utilized to identify pathways that are differentially regulated in lung and tumour tissues between asbestos-exposed and non-exposed lung cancer patients. Differentially regulated pathways were identified from gene expression data from 14 asbestos-exposed and 14 non-exposed lung cancer patients using custom-made software and Iterative Group Analysis (iGA). Western blotting was used to further characterize the findings, specifically to determine the protein levels of UBA1 and UBA7.


Differences between asbestos-related and non-related lung tumours were detected in pathways associated with, e.g., ion transport, NF-κB signalling, DNA repair, as well as spliceosome and nucleosome complexes. A notable fraction of the pathways down-regulated in both normal and tumour tissue of the asbestos-exposed patients were related to protein ubiquitination, a versatile process regulating, for instance, DNA repair, cell cycle, and apoptosis, and thus being also a significant contributor of carcinogenesis. Even though UBA1 or UBA7, the early enzymes involved in protein ubiquitination and ubiquitin-like regulation of target proteins, did not underlie the exposure-related deregulation of ubiquitination, a difference was detected in the UBA1 and UBA7 levels between squamous cell carcinomas and respective normal lung tissue (p = 0.02 and p = 0.01) without regard to exposure status.


Our results indicate alterations in protein ubiquitination related both to cancer type and asbestos. We present for the first time pathway analysis results on asbestos-associated lung cancer, providing important insight into the most relevant targets for future research.