Arsenic compromises conducting airway epithelial barrier properties in primary mouse and immortalized human cell cultures

Cara L. Sherwood, Andrew E. Liguori, Colin E. Olsen, R. Clark Lantz, Jefferey L. Burgess, Scott Boitano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Arsenic is a lung toxicant that can lead to respiratory illness through inhalation and ingestion, although the most common exposure is through contaminated drinking water. Lung effects reported from arsenic exposure include lung cancer and obstructive lung disease, as well as reductions in lung function and immune response. As part of their role in innate immune function, airway epithelial cells provide a barrier that protects underlying tissue from inhaled particulates, pathogens, and toxicants frequently found in inspired air. We evaluated the effects of a five-day exposure to environmentally relevant levels of arsenic {<4μM [∼300 μg/L (ppb)] as NaAsO2} on airway epithelial barrier function and structure. In a primary mouse tracheal epithelial (MTE) cell model we found that both micromolar (3.9 μM) and submicromolar (0.8 μM) arsenic concentrations reduced transepithelial resistance, a measure of barrier function. Immunofluorescent staining of arsenic-treated MTE cells showed altered patterns of localization of the transmembrane tight junction proteins claudin (Cl) Cl-1, Cl-4, Cl-7 and occludin at cell-cell contacts when compared with untreated controls. To better quantify arsenic-induced changes in tight junction transmembrane proteins we conducted arsenic exposure experiments with an immortalized human bronchial epithelial cell line (16HBE14o-). We found that arsenic exposure significantly increased the protein expression of Cl-4 and occludin as well as the mRNA levels of Cl-4 and Cl-7 in these cells. Additionally, arsenic exposure resulted in altered phosphorylation of occludin. In summary, exposure to environmentally relevant levels of arsenic can alter both the function and structure of airway epithelial barrier constituents. These changes likely contribute to the observed arsenic-induced loss in basic innate immune defense and increased infection in the airway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere82970
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 6 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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