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Exposure to peroxisome proliferators: reassessment of the potential carcinogenic hazard. (Correspondence).

Melnick (1) recently suggested that because peroxisome proliferation is not established as an obligatory step in the carcinogenicity of peroxisome proliferators (PPs), the proposal that the peroxisome proliferator di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) poses no carcinogenic risk to humans (2) due to species differences in peroxisome proliferation should be viewed as an unvalidated hypothesis (1). In this context, Melnick (1) raised the recent downgrading by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of DEHP (3) to "not classifiable as to its risk to humans (group 3)" based on their conclusion that it produces rodent liver tumors by a mechanism involving peroxisome proliferation, which they judged to be not relevant to humans (3). As illustrated by Melnick (1), there is a large body of data to correlate the phenomenon of rodent liver peroxisome proliferation with rodent liver cancer but "published studies have not established peroxisome proliferation per se as an obligatory pathway on the carcinogenicity of DEHP" (1). This focuses attention on the need, as also suggested by O'Brien et al. (4), for a fundamental review of how PPs induce liver cancer in rodents and the relevance of these rodent tumors for humans.

There are two distinct usage patterns for PPs: as drugs such as clofibrate for the treatment of hypolipidemia (5) and in nonclinical applications such as the plasticiser DEHP. Most PPs are carcinogenic to the rodent liver, and the task of assessing their human carcinogenic potential has fallen to different regulatory agencies, depending on the primary usage pattern of the particular PP in question. There seems to be little regulatory concern regarding the safety of the clinical PPs, yet continuing uncertainty regarding, the safety of the nonpharmaceutical PPs. This presents an untenable situation that we suggest is unjustifed.

Hypolipidemic fibrates such as clofibrate and gemfibrozil have been used extensively over the past 20 years to treat cardiovascular disease and are enjoying a revival due to recent reconfirmation of efficacy (6). However, by 1980 several of these agents had become associated with a rodent-specific response known as hepatic peroxisome proliferation (7), a property shared by a number of nonpharmaceutical chemicals (8). Additionally, a link between rodent liver peroxisome proliferation and an increased risk of rodent liver carcinogenesis was emerging (7). Nonetheless, clinical side effects of the fibrate PPs are rare, and analyses of causes of death during treatment show no evidence of an adverse effect and no evidence of an increase in malignant disease compared to the normal population (5). Specifically, the carcinogenic risk to humans of gemfibrozil and clofibrate has been formally evaluated by IARC (9,10), and in the case of clofibrate, for which most clinical data exist, IARC (9) concluded that "the mechanism of liver carcinogenesis in clofibrate-treated rats would not be operative in humans." This conclusion was based on the observation that clofibrate causes peroxisome proliferation and cell proliferation in rodent but not human hepatocytes and on the results of extensive epidemiologic studies, particularly the World Health Organization trial on clofibrate that included 208,000 man-years of observation (11,12). Further, a meta-analysis (13) of the results from six clinical trials on clofibrate also found no excess cancer mortality (9).

It therefore appears that there are no remaining concerns about the human carcinogenic potential of the clinical PPs and that the rodent liver effects have been set aside as probable laboratory curiosities. However, this is not true for the nonpharmaceutical PPs; several regulatory agencies continue to be concerned about their carcinogenic potential to the human liver. The unease of these agencies is due to their belief that in the absence of a definitive mechanism of PP-induced rodent liver carcinogenesis, it is not possible to make a clear statement on the human safety of these chemicals. Nonetheless, there are now several strong lines of evidence that PP-induced rodent liver carcinogenesis is not relevant to humans, which supports the conclusion drawn by IARC for the clinically used PPs and the recent IARC decision to downgrade DEHP from group 2B (possibly carcinogenic to humans) to group 3 (3).These lines of evidence are as follows:

* Direct genetic toxicity has been eliminated as a common mechanism of carcinogenic action for PPs in general (14). Thus, rodent hepatocarcinogenicity must occur via a nongenotoxic mechanism that correlates with peroxisome proliferation, although, as pointed out by Melnick (1), the hepatocarcinogenicity is unlikely to be caused by peroxisome proliferation per se, as initially suggested (15).

* There are marked species differences in the induction of peroxisomes, with human hepatocytes being resistant (8,16,17). These data provide evidence that the phenomenon of PP-induced peroxisome proliferation is rodent specific.

* PPs suppress rodent hepatocyte apoptosis (18-20) and induce rodent hepatocyte replication (8). This duality of effects provides a plausible mode of rodent carcinogenic action based on liver growth perturbation (21,22). As well as being resistant to peroxisome proliferation, human hepatocytes are also resistant to PP-mediated induction of replication and suppression of apoptosis (8,16,17).

Whatever the precise mechanism by which PPs induce rodent liver cancer, rodent liver peroxisome proliferation, induction of the peroxisomal gene acyl CoA oxidase (ACO) (23), hypertrophy (24), and carcinogenicity (25) are all mediated through activation of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR[alpha]). This is illustrated dramatically by the absence of all of these responses in PPAR[alpha] knockout mice treated with the PPs DEHP or Wyeth-14,643 (24-26).

Although human liver expresses around 10-fold less PPAR[alpha] mRNA than the rodent liver (27,28), evidence suggests that the hypolipidemic effects of the fibrate drugs in humans are also mediated by activation of PPAR[alpha], leading to regulation of the apolipoprotein (Apo) genes such as ApoA1 (29). Thus, PPAR[alpha] levels in human liver may be sufficient to mediate PP-induced hypolipidemia, but insufficient to activate the gene battery associated with rodent peroxisome proliferation and cancer (30). In addition to these quantitative data, there are species differences in the molecular sequence of the PPAR[alpha] response elements (PPREs) located upstream of genes associated with rodent peroxisome proliferation such as ACO. In the rat, ACO responds to PPs via a functional PPRE, whereas the equivalent gene in humans does not (31,32). Thus, the human ACO gene does not respond to PPs even in the presence of excess PPAR[alpha] (31-33). Similarly, recent data have shown that PPAR[alpha] cannot induce the battery of peroxisome proliferation-associated genes in human hepatoma cells (33,34). Conversely, the human ApoA1 gene is responsive to fibrate PPs, whereas the equivalent rat gene is not (35). Such findings isolate the human hypolipodaemic effects of PPs from the rodent cancer effects.

Although the precise mechanism of the carcinogenic action of PPs in the rodent liver remains to be determined, all of the phenomena associated with this response of rodent hepatocytes (peroxisome proliferation, ACO gene expression, induction of cell proliferation, and the suppression of apoptosis) are absent in human hepatocytes. This body of data provides a plausible mode of carcinogenic action for the rodent liver, which, when coupled with the clinical epidemiology showing an absence of a human cancer risk, provides substantial weight of evidence that the PP class of nongenotoxic rodent hepatocarcinogens does not pose a potential cancer hazard to the human liver.


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(2.) Doull J, Cattley R, Elcombe C, Lake B, Swenberg J, Wilkinson C, Williams G, van Gamert M. A cancer risk assessment of DEHP: application of the new US EPA risk assessment guidelines. Regul Pharmacol Toxicol 29:327-357 (1999).

(3.) IARC. On the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risk to Humans. Some Industrial Chemicals. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risk Chem Hum 77 (2000).

(4.) O'Brien M, Twaroski T, Cunningham M, Glauert H, Spear B. Effects of peroxisome proliferators on antioxidant enzymes and antioxidant vitamins in rats and hamsters. Toxicol Sci 60:271-278 (2001).

(5.) The coronary drug project research group. Clofibrate and niacin in coronary heart disease. JAMA 231:360-380 (1975).

(6.) Milionis H, Elisaf M, Mikhailidis D. Treatment of dyslipidaemias in patients with established vascular disease: a revival of the fibrates. Cur Med Res Opin 16:21-32 (2000).

(7.) Reddy JK, Azarnoff DL, Hignite CE. Hypolipidaemic hepatic peroxisome proliferators form a novel class of chemical carcinogens. Nature 283:397-398 (1980).

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(9.) IARC. Clofibrate. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risk Hum. 66:391-426 (1996).

(10.) IARC. Gemfibrozil. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risk Hum. 66:427-444 (1996).

(11.) WHO cooperative trial on primary prevention of ischaemic heart disease with clofibrate to lower serum cholesterol: mortality follow-up. Report of the Committee of Principal Investigators. Lancet 2:379-385 (1980).

(12.) WHO cooperative trial on primary prevention of ischaemic heart disease with clofibrate to lower serum cholesterol: final mortality follow-up. Report of the Committee of Principal Investigators. Lancet 2:600--604 (1984).

(13.) Law M, Thompson S, Wald N. Assessing possible hazards of reducing serum cholesterol. Br J Med 308:373-379 (1994).

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(16.) Hasmall S, James N, Macdonald N, Soames A, Roberts R. Species differences in response to diethylhexylphthalate (DEHP): suppression of apoptosis, induction of DNA synthesis and PPAR alpha-mediated gene expression. Arch Toxicol 74:85-91 (2000).

(17.) Williams GM, Perrone C. Mechanism-based risk assessment of peroxisome proliferating rodent hepatocarcinogens. In: Peroxisomes: Biology and Role in Toxicology and Disease, Vol 804 (Reddy JK, ed). New York:New York Academy of Sciences, 1995;554-572.

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(19.) Bayly AC, Roberts RA, Dive C. Suppression of liver cell apoptosis in vitro by the non-genotoxic hepato-carcinogen and peroxisome proliferator, nafenopin. J Cell Biol 125:197-203 (1994).

(20.) Christensen J, Gonzalez A, Cattley R, Goldsworthy T. Regulation of apoptosis in mouse hepatocytes and alteration of apoptosis by nongenotoxic carcinogens. Cell Growth Differ 9:815-825 (1998).

(21.) Roberts R. Peroxisome proliferators: mechanisms of adverse rodents effects and molecular basis for species differences. Arch Toxicol 73:413-418 (1999).

(22.) Vanden Heuvel J. Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) and carcinogenesis. Toxicol Sci 47:1-8 (1999).

(23.) Tugwood JD, Issemann I, Anderson RG, Bundell KR, McPheat WL, Green S. The mouse peroxisome proliferator activated receptor recognizes a response element in the 5' flanking sequence of the rat acyl CoA oxidase gene. EMBO J 11:433-439 (1992).

(24.) Lee SS-T, Pineau T, Drago J, Lee E J, Owens JO, Kroetz DL, Fernandez-Salguero PM, Westphal H, Gonzalez FJ. Targeted disruption of the alpha isoform of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gene in mice results in abolishment of the pleiotrophic effects of peroxisome proliferators. Mol Cell Biol 15:3012-3022 (1995).

(25.) Peters JM, Cattley RC, Gonzalez FJ. Role of PPAR alpha in the mechanism of action of the nongenotoxic carcinogen and peroxisome proliferator, Wy-14,643. Carcinogenesis 18:2029-2033 (1997).

(26.) Ward J, Peters J, Perella C, Gonzalez F. Receptor and nonreceptor-mediated organ specific toxicity of DEHP in PPAR alpha null mice. Toxicol Pathol 26:240-245 (1998).

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(28.) Palmer CNA, Hsu M-H, Griffin K J, Raucy JL, Johnson EF. Peroxisome proliferator activated receptor-alpha expression in human liver. Mol Pharmacol 53:14-22 (1998).

(29.) Auwerx J. Regulation of gene expression by fatty acids and fibric acid derivatives: an integrative role for PPARs. Horm Res 38:269-277 (1992).

(30.) Gonzalez F. The role of proxisome proliferator activated receptor alpha in peroxisome proliferation, physiological homeostasis and chemical carcinogenesis. In: Dietary Fat and Cancer: Genetic and Molecular Interactions (American Institute for Cancer Research, ed). New York:Plenum Press, 1997; 109-125.

(31.) Woodyatt N, Lambe K, Myers K, Tugwood J, Roberts R. The peroxisome proliferator (PP) response element (PPRE) upstream of the human acyl CoA oxidase gene is inactive in a sample human population: significance for species differences in response to PPs. Carcinogenesis 20:369-375 (1999).

(32.) Lawrence J, Zhou G, Li Y, Chen S, Umbernhauer D, Moller D, DeLuca G. Species differences in response to peroxisome proliferators: increasing human PPAR alpha expression levels in human cells is not sufficient for fatty acyl CoA oxidase responsiveness. Toxicol Sci 54:322 (2000).

(33.) Hsu M-H, Savas U, Griffin KJ, Johnson EF. Identification of peroxisome proliferator-responsive human genes by elevated expression of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor in HepG2 cells. J Biol Chem 276:27950--27958 (2001). Available: [cited 29 August 2001].

(34.) Lawrence J, Li Y, Chen S, DeLuca J, Berger J, Umbernhauer D, Moiler D, Zhou G. Differential gene regulation in human versus rodent hepatocytes by peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) ([alpha] PPAR [alpha] fails to induce peroxisome proliferation-associated genes in human cells independently of the level of receptor expression. J Biol Chem 276:31521-31527 (2001). Available: full/276/34/31521 [cited 29 August 2001].

(35). Vu-Dac N, Chopin-Delannoy S, Gervois P, Bonnelye E, Martin G, Fruchart J-C, Laudet V, Staels B. The nuclear receptors PPAR alpha and RevErb alpha mediate the species specific regulation of apolipoprotein A1 expression by fibrates. J Biol Chem 273:25713-25722 (1998).
Ruth Roberts
Graeme Moffat
John Ashby
Syngenta CTL
Alderley Park, United Kingdom
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Author:Ashby, John
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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