Objective: Firefighters (FFs) are chronically exposed to smoke and products of incomplete combustion, which frequently contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This study examined the possibility of an association between PAH-induced epigenetic alterations and occupational firefighting exposure.
Methods: Promoter methylation was analyzed in four genes in blood DNA from 18 FFs and 20 non-FFs (controls). Jurkat and human normal prostate epithelial cells were treated with benzo[a]pyrene to ascertain the epigenetic effects of this type of agent.
Results: Firefighters had a higher prevalence of dual specificity phosphatase 22-promoter hypomethylation in blood DNA (P = 0.03) and the extent of hypomethylation correlated with duration of firefighting service (P = 0.04) but not with age. Benzo[a]pyrene reduced promoter methylation and increased gene expression of the same gene in Jurkat and normal prostate epithelial cells.
Conclusions: Cumulative occupational exposure to combustion-derived PAHs during firefighting can cause epigenetic changes in promoters of specific genes.