Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure is a risk factor for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), and PAHs are ligands of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). This study measured the expression of AhR and related genes in frozen esophageal cell samples from patients exposed to different levels of indoor air pollution, who did or did not have high-grade squamous dysplasia (HGD), and who did or did not have a family history (FH) of upper gastrointestinal cancer (UGI Ca).
147 samples were evaluated, including 23 (16%) from patients with HGD and 48 (33%) from patients without DYS who heated their homes with coal, without a chimney (a “high” indoor air pollution group), and 27 (18%) from patients with HGD and 49 (33%) from patients without DYS who did not heat their homes at all (a “low” indoor air pollution group). Nearly half (64 (44%)) had a FH of UGI Ca. RNA was extracted and Quantitative-PCR analysis was performed.
AhR gene expression was detectable in 85 (58%) of the samples, and was more than 9-fold higher in those with a FH of UGI Ca (median expression (IQR) -1964 (-18000, -610) versus -18000 (-18000, -1036) Wilcoxon P = 0.02). Heating status, dysplasia category, age, gender, and smoking were not associated with AhR expression (linear regression, all P-values ≥0.1).
AhR expression was higher in patients with a FH of UGI Ca. Such individuals may be more susceptible to the deleterious effects of PAH exposure, including PAH-induced cancer.