Hexavalent chromium [Cr(VI)] pollution is a serious environmental problem, due to not only its toxicity but also carcinogenesis. Although studies reveal several features of Cr(VI)-induced carcinogenesis, the underlying mechanisms of how Cr(VI) orchestrates multiple mitogenic pathways to promote tumor initiation and progression remain not fully understood. Src/Ras and other growth-related pathways are shown to be key players in Cr(VI)-initiated tumor prone actions. The role of protein kinase C (PKC, an important signal transducer) in Cr (VI)-mediated carcinogenesis has not been thoroughly investigated. In this study, using human bronchial/lung epithelial cells and keratinocytes, we demonstrate that PKC activity is increased by transient or chronic Cr(VI) exposure, which plays no role in the activation of Src/Ras signaling and ROS upregulation by this metal toxin. PKC in chronic Cr(VI)-treated cells stabilizes Bcl-2 to mitigate doxorubicin (an anti-cancer drug)mediated apoptosis. After the suppression of this kinase by GO6976 (a PKC inhibitor), the cells chronically exposed to Cr(VI) partially regain the sensitivity to doxorubicin. However, when co-suppressed PKC and Ras, the chronic Cr(VI)-treated cells become fully responsive to doxorubicin and are unable to be transformed. Taken together, our study provides a new insight into the mechanisms, in which PKC is an indispensable player and cooperates with other mitogenic pathways to achieve Cr(VI)-induced carcinogenesis as well as to establish drug resistance. The data also suggest that active PKC can serve as a potential biomarker for early detection of health damages by Cr(VI) and therapeutic target for developing new treatments for diseases caused by Cr(VI).
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