Although the scientific and medical industries have conclusively agreed that mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure, the process by which asbestos fibers cause the rare cancer is still under investigation.
A 2011 experiment published in Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis sought to identify the molecular markers that play a role in the formation and development of mesothelioma.
During the study, researchers analyzed the proteins and phosphoproteins that were expressed by benign mesothelial cells, malignant mesothelial cells and crocidolite-exposed mesothelial cells. Commonly referred to as “blue asbestos,” crocidolite is a form of amphibole asbestos primarily found in southern Africa and Australia.
Total cellular proteins were extracted from these cells, and protein expression levels were immunologically examined. A protein pathway array was also performed.
The analysis of the cells treated with a crocidolite compound showed 16 altered proteins and phosphoproteins. These cells had not yet become cancerous, yet the exposure to asbestos primarily affected the proteins that play a role in DNA damage and cell cycle regulation. During the development of mesothelioma, DNA damage resulting from asbestos exposure is thought to trigger healthy cells’ transformation into malignant mesothelioma cells.
The cancerous cells examined in the study displayed abnormal expression of 21 proteins and phosphoproteins. Many of the same proteins and phosphoproteins that had been changed in the asbestos-exposed cells were also abnormal in the malignant mesothelioma cells. Because these cells had further progressed in asbestos-induced destruction, additional proteins had also been damaged.
The researchers who performed the experiment intend for the results of their study to clarify the way that asbestos exposure damages the body’s regulatory pathways and networks. They also suggest that the proteins identified by the study be considered for a role in future mesothelioma screening examinations, stating, “These altered proteins may be used in the future to identify those with a high risk for developing malignant mesothelioma and as targets for preventing this deadly malignancy.”