Arsenic is a well-documented human carcinogen. The present study explored the role of the onco-miR, miR-21 and its target protein, programmed cell death 4 (PDCD4) in arsenic induced malignant cell transformation and tumorigenesis. Our results showed that treatment of human bronchial epithelial (BEAS-2B) cells with arsenic induces ROS through p47phox, one of the NOX subunits that is the key source of arsenic-induced ROS. Arsenic exposure induced an upregulation of miR-21 expression associated with inhibition of PDCD4, and caused malignant cell transformation and tumorigenesis of BEAS-2B cells. Indispensably, STAT3 transcriptional activation by IL-6 is crucial for the arsenic induced miR-21 increase. Upregulated miR-21 levels and suppressed PDCD4 expression was also observed in xenograft tumors generated with chronic arsenic exposed BEAS-2B cells. Stable shut down of miR-21, p47phox or STAT3 and overexpression of PDCD4 or catalase in BEAS-2B cells markedly inhibited the arsenic induced malignant transformation and tumorigenesis. Similarly, silencing of miR-21 or STAT3 and forced expression of PDCD4 in arsenic transformed cells (AsT) also inhibited cell proliferation and tumorigenesis. Furthermore, arsenic suppressed the downstream protein E-cadherin expression and induced β-catenin/TCF-dependent transcription of uPAR and c-Myc. These results indicate that the ROS-STAT3-miR-21-PDCD4 signaling axis plays an important role in arsenic -induced carcinogenesis.

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Published in Scientific Reports, v. 6, article no. 37227, p. 1-15.

© The Author(s) 2016

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This research was supported by National Institutes of Health (R01ES017244, R01ES025515) and Cell Sorting core facility of the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center (National Institutes of Health Grant P30CA177558).