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An investigation into the molecular and Epigenetic alterations associated with Fumonisin B1-induced toxicity in human liver (HEPG2) cells.

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The contamination of agricultural commodities with Fusarium mycotoxins is a global issue in food safety, with fumonisin B1 (FB1) being the most prevalent contaminant. FB1 is not only phytotoxic, but it induces a wide range of toxic effects in animals and humans and is associated with carcinogenesis in animals and humans. Intense research has uncovered several mechanisms by which FB1 induces toxicity. Recent evidence suggests that epigenetic mechanisms may also contribute to the toxic effects of FB1. Epigenetic modifications including DNA methylation, histone methylation, N-6- methyladenosine (m6A) RNA methylation, and non-coding RNAs such as microRNAs (miRNA) and long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) are central mediators of cellular function and cellular stress responses and disruption may be pertinent in FB1-induced toxicities. This study aimed to determine the epigenetic mechanisms of FB1-induced hepatotoxicity by specifically investigating changes in DNA methylation, histone 3 lysine 4 trimethylation (H3K4me3), m6A RNA modification, and noncoding RNA in human hepatoma (HepG2) cells. The effect of these FB1-induced epigenetic modifications on stress responses was further investigated. FB1 impairs DNA repair processes via epigenetic mechanism. FB1 reduced the expression of histone demethylase, KDM5B, which subsequently increased the total H3K4me3 and the enrichment of H3K4me3 at the PTEN promoter region; this led to an increase in PTEN transcript levels. However, miR-30c inhibited PTEN translation. Thus, PI3K/AKT signaling was activated, inhibiting CHK1 activity via phosphorylation of its serine 280 residue. This hampered the repair of oxidative DNA damage that occurred as a result of FB1 exposure. Exposure to FB1 not only induced oxidative DNA damage but elevated levels of intracellular ROS triggering cell injury. In response to oxidative injury, cells induce Keap1/Nrf2 signaling which is regulated by epigenetic mechanisms. FB1 elevated global m6A RNA levels which were accompanied by an increase in m6A “writers”: METTL3 and METTL14, and “readers”: YTHDF1, YTHDF2, YTHDF3 and YTHDC2 and a decrease in m6A “erasers”: ALKBH5 and FTO. Hypermethylation occurred at the Keap1 promoter, resulting in a reduction of Keap1 transcripts. The hypomethylation of Nrf2 promoters and decrease in miR-27b expression led to an increase in Nrf2 mRNA expression. m6A-Keap1 and m6A-Nrf2 levels were both elevated; however, protein expression of Keap1 was reduced whereas Nrf2 was increased. Collectively, these epigenetic modifications (promoter methylation, miRNA-27b and m6A RNA) activated antioxidant signaling by reducing Keap1 expression and increasing Nrf2 expression. If cells are unable to cope with stress, p53-mediated apoptosis is activated. Crosstalk between the lncRNA, HOXA11-AS, miR-124 and DNA methylation can influence p53 expression and apoptosis. FB1 upregulated HOXA11-AS leading to the subsequent decrease in miR-124 and increase in SP1 and DNA methyltransferases (DNMT1, DNMT3A, and DNMT3B). This promoted global DNA methylation and hypermethylation of p53 promoters, thereby reducing p53 expression and caspase activity. Taken together, the data suggests that FB1 inhibits p53-dependent apoptosis via HOXA11- AS/miR-124/DNMT axis. Collectively, this study provides novel insights into additional mechanisms of FB1-induced toxicities by epigenetically modulating stress response mechanisms.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.