Transcriptional profiling defines the effects of nickel in human epidermal keratinocytes.

Nickel is a ubiquitous and virtually unavoidable environmental pollutant and occupational hazard, but its molecular and cellular effects are not well understood. Human epidermal keratinocytes are the sentinel and the primary target for nickel. We treated with nickel salts skin equivalents containing differentiating epidermal keratinocytes grown on air-liquid interface in standard cell culture conditions. We identified the transcriptional profiles affected by nickel in reconstructed human epidermis (RHE) using DNA microarrays. The Ni-regulated genes were determined at two time points, immediate-early, 30 min after treatment, and late, at 6 h. Using in silico data analysis, we determined that 134 genes are regulated by nickel; of these, 97 are induced and 37 suppressed. Functional categories of regulated genes suggest that Ni inhibits apoptosis, promotes cell cycle and induces synthesis of extracellular matrix proteins and extracellular proteases. Importantly, Ni also regulates a set of secreted signaling proteins, inducing VEGF, amphiregulin, PGF, GDF15, and BST2, while suppressing IL-18, galectin-3, and LITAF. These secreted proteins may be important in Ni-caused allergic reactions. Ni induced inhibitors of the NFkappaB signaling pathway, and suppressed its activators. Correspondingly, NFkappaB binding sites were found to be overrepresented in the Ni-suppressed genes, whereas cFOS/AP1 binding sites were common in the Ni-induced genes. Significant parallels were found between the Ni-regulated genes and the genes regulated by TGFbeta, EGF, glucocorticoids, or Oncostatin-M. The comprehensive identification of Ni-regulated genes in human epidermal equivalents significantly advances our understanding of the molecular effects of nickel in skin.