Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons detected in processed meats cause genetic changes in colorectal cancers

Tracie Cheng, Stephanie Chaousis, Sujani Madhurika Kodagoda Gamage, Alfred King Yin Lam*, Vinod Gopalan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
41 Downloads (Pure)


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are commonly ingested via meat and are produced from high‐temperature cooking of meat. Some of these PAHs have potential roles in carcinogenesis of colorectal cancer (CRC). We aimed to investigate PAH concentrations in eight types of commonly consumed ready‐to‐eat meat samples and their potential effects on gene expressions related to CRC. Extraction and clean‐up of meat samples were performed using QuEChERS method, and PAHs were detected using GC‐MS. Nine different PAHs were found in meat samples. Interestingly, roast turkey contained the highest total PAH content, followed by salami meat. Hams of varying levels of smokedness showed a proportional increase of phenanthrene (PHEN), anthracene (ANTH), and fluorene (FLU). Triple‐smoked ham samples showed significantly higher levels of these PAHs compared to single‐smoked ham. These three PAHs plus benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P), being detected in three meat samples, were chosen as treatments to investigate in vitro gene expression changes in human colon cells. After PAH treatment, total RNA was extracted and rtPCR was performed, investigating gene expression related to CRC. B[a]P decreased mRNA expression of TP53. In addition, at high concentrations, B[a]P significantly increased KRAS expression. Treatments with 1 uM PHEN, 25 uM, and 10 uM FLU significantly increased KRAS mRNA expression in vitro, implying the potential basis for PAH‐induced colorectal carcinogenesis. Opposingly, the ANTH treatment led to increased TP53 and APC expression and decreased KRAS expression, suggesting an anti‐carcinogenic effect. To conclude, PAHs are common in ready‐to‐eat meat samples and are ca-pable of significantly modifying the expression of key genes related to CRC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10959
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes


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