Biomarkers of Human Exposure and Effect to Petrogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons


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Safety of seafood harvested from the Gulf of Mexico has been a primary concern since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. Petrogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in crude oil have the potential to bioaccumulate in seafood and render consumers vulnerable to adverse health effects. Despite the knowledge that alkylated PAHs abundant in petrogenic PAH mixtures can be potent activators of the Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor (AhR) which mediates the formation of PAH toxic metabolites, there has been very limited research done on the human health impacts of petrogenic PAHs. Moreover, biomonitoring protocols applied after the DWH oil spill were predicated on pyrogenic PAHs commonly produced through combustion processes that are not representative of the petrogenic PAHs found in oil. Using an optimized Chemically Activated LUciferase gene eXpression (CALUX) bioassay, highly bioactive PAHs in longitudinally collected plasma samples of DWH oil spill-affected human populations were identified as biomarkers of petrogenic PAH exposure. Additionally, Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) and quantitative Real Time – Polymerase Chain Reaction (qRT-PCR) were used to identify and verify differentially expressed circulating plasma microRNAs that may serve as novel minimally invasive biomarkers of effect following exposures to bioactive PAHs including those found in contaminated seafood. The development of novel PAH biomonitoring methods will lend scientific support to toxicological risk assessments and management of human exposures to harmful PAHs.



PAHs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, petrogenic, pyrogenic, crude oil, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Gulf of Mexico, microRNA, biomarkers, biomarkers of exposure, biomarkers of effect, aryl hydrocarbon receptor, AhR, oil spill, offshore drilling, fossil fuel, environmental toxicology, toxicology, GC-HARMS, Gulf Coast, environmental health, community-based participatory research, total PAH body burden, CALUX