Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Human Toxicology

First Advisor

Gabriele Ludewig


Polychlorniated Biphenyls (PCBs), a group of 209 individual congeners, are ubiquitous environmental pollutants and classified as probable human carcinogens. Hallmarks of aging and carcinogenesis are changes in telomerase activity and telomere length. I hypothesize that PCBs modulate telomerase activity and telomeres via interference in gene regulation and generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) resulting in the dysregulation of cell growth. To explore this possibility, I exposed human skin keratinocytes (HaCaT) to a synthetic airborne PCB mixture (CAM) and individual congeners, i.e. PCB28, PCB52, PCB126 and PCB153. To mimic the chronic human exposure to PCBs and the slow process of carcinogenesis, a long term exposure period of 48 days and beyond was employed. All PCB congeners and CAM reduced telomerase activity, telomere length and cell growth. Among all PCBs, PCB126 had the most pronounced effect with reduction in telomerase activity, telomere length, hTERT and hTR gene expression and cell growth, while increasing TRF1 & TRF2 gene expression. PCB126 elicited an increase in CYP1A1 mRNA, CYP1A1 activity, DHE and DCFH oxidation levels from days 6 to 48, suggesting that increased ROS might be a causative factor for the reduction in telomerase activity and telomere length. However, transduction with hTERT and hTR subunits partly rescued telomerase activity, while treatment with PEG-catalase did not rescue telomerase activity suggesting that telomerase subunits play an important role on PCB126 induced effects on telomerase activity and telomere length. Since cells with shortened telomeres may escape crisis through telomerase reactivation, PCB126 treatment was continued until day 90. A change in growth behavior was observed from day 54 to 90, with cells recovering the proliferation rate, and increasing c-Myc, hTERT, and hTR gene expression level, re-activating telomerase activity and re-elongating telomere length. TRF1 & 2 gene expression started to decrease after day 66. From day 78, no increase in CYP1A1mRNA and its activity as well as CYP1B1, ALDH3A1, UGT1A1 and AhRRmRNA was observed suggesting that the AhR response pathway may have been altered. This study shows for the first time that PCBs initially reduce telomerase activity, telomere length, and cell growth, and can later lead to telomerase re-activation, telomere lengthening and increased cell growth with modulation of the AhR receptor pathway. This observation has broad implications for chronic PCB exposure scenarios.


Cell cycle, PCBs, ROS, Telomerase, Telomere


xiii, 113 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 91-110).


Copyright 2012 Senthilkumar Perumal Kuppusamy

Included in

Toxicology Commons