Epigenetic and transcriptional modifications in repetitive elements in petrol stationworkers exposed to benzene and MTBE

Federica Rota, Anastasia Conti, Laura Campo, Chiara Favero, Laura Cantone, Valeria Motta, Elisa Polledri, Rosa Mercadante, Giorgio Dieci, Valentina Bollati, Silvia Fustinoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Benzene, a known human carcinogen, and methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity, are fuel-related pollutants. This study investigated the effect of these chemicals on epigenetic and transcriptional alterations in DNArepetitive elements. In 89 petrol station workers and 90 non-occupationally exposed subjects the transcriptional activity of retrotransposons (LINE-1, Alu), the methylation on repeated-element DNA, and of H3K9 histone, were investigated in peripheral blood lymphocytes. Median work shift exposure to benzene and MTBE was 59 and 408 μg/m3 in petrol station workers, and 4 and 3.5 μg/m3, in controls. Urinary benzene (BEN-U), S-phenylmercapturic acid, and MTBE were significantly higher in workers than in controls, while trans,trans-muconic acid (tt-MA) was comparable between the two groups. Increased BEN-U was associated with increased Alu-Y and Alu-J expression; moreover, increased tt-MA was associated with increased Alu-Y and Alu-J and LINE-1 (L1)-5′UTR expression. Among repetitive element methylation, only L1-Pa5 was hypomethylated in petrol station workers compared to controls. While L1-Ta and Alu-YD6 methylation was not associated with benzene exposure, a negative association with urinary MTBE was observed. The methylation status of histone H3K9 was not associated with either benzene or MTBE exposure. Overall, these findings only partially support previous observations linking benzene exposure with global DNA hypomethylation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number735
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 12 2018


  • Benzene
  • Methylation of DNA
  • Methylation of histones
  • Petrol station workers
  • Transcriptional activity of retrotransposons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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