Several studies point to the existence of an inverse correlation between cellular lipid peroxidation and both cell proliferation and neoplastic transformation. Here, we show that 4-hydroxynonenal (HNE) concentrations close to the level found in normal cells (in the range of 1 and 3 µm) can specifically induce changes in the expression of c-myc and γ-globin mRNA in K562 cells, without inducing any toxic effects or affecting cell viability. Since we have determined that K562 cells have undetectable levels of endogenous lipid peroxidation, all these effects can be assigned to the exogenous HNE treatment. After a 1-h treatment with 1 µm HNE, c-myc mRNA levels decrease transiently during the first 4 h, rebounding later to higher levels, and normalizing to basal expression after 4 days. Run-on experiments show a transient transcriptional block 20 min after HNE treatment and subsequent posttranscriptional regulation. According to S1 mapping, mRNA changes are exerted on c-myc transcripts initiated from both the principal constitutive start sites (P1 and P2). γ-Globin mRNA levels concomitantly increase 3- to 4-fold, but no significant changes of housekeeping gene expression are observed. On the basis of these results it appears that the restoration in human erythroleukemic K562 cells of HNE concentrations closer to the level in normal cells can modulate the expression of specific genes.

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This work was partly supported by Progetto Bilaterale CNR to V. M. F. and M. G. F., and by MPI 40 and 60% and Progetto Finalizzato Oncologia CNR to M. G. F. The Turin workshop was partly supported by the Association for International Cancer Research.

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