Cell Biology and Toxicology

, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 345–360 | Cite as

Brominated flame retardants, tetrabromobisphenol A and hexabromocyclododecane, activate mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) in human natural killer cells

  • Anita Cato
  • Lindsay Celada
  • Esther Caroline Kibakaya
  • Nadia Simmons
  • Margaret M. Whalen
Original Research


Natural killer (NK) cells provide a vital surveillance against virally infected cells, tumor cells, and antibody-coated cells through the release of cytolytic mediators and gamma interferon (IFN-γ). Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) is a brominated flame retardant used primarily in expanded (EPS) and extruded (XPS) polystyrene foams for thermal insulation in the building and construction industry. Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) is used both as a reactive and an additive flame retardant in a variety of materials. HBCD and TBBPA contaminate the environment and are found in human blood samples. In previous studies, we have shown that other environmental contaminants, such as the dibutyltin (DBT) and tributyltin (TBT), decrease NK lytic function by activating mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) in the NK cells. HBCD and TBBPA also interfere with NK cell(s) lytic function. The current study evaluates whether HBCD and/or TBBPA have the capacity to activate MAPKs and MAPK kinases (MAP2Ks). The effects of concentrations of HBCD and TBBPA that inhibited lytic function on the phosphorylation state and total levels of the MAPKs (p44/42, p38, and JNK) and the phosphorylation and total levels of the MAP2Ks (MEK1/2 and MKK3/6) were examined. Results indicate that exposure of human NK cells to 10–0.5 μM HBCD or TBBPA activate MAPKs and MAP2Ks. This HBCD and TBBPA-induced activation of MAPKs may leave them unavailable for activation by virally infected or tumor target cells and thus contributes to the observed decreases in lytic function seen in NK cells exposed to HBCD and TBBPA.


Hexabromocyclododecane MAPK MAP2K MAP3K Tetrabromobisphenol A NK cells 



This research was supported by Grant 2T34GM007663-33 and 5U54CA163066-03 from the National Institutes of Health.

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest. The authors are alone responsible for the content and writing of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anita Cato
    • 1
  • Lindsay Celada
    • 1
  • Esther Caroline Kibakaya
    • 2
  • Nadia Simmons
    • 2
  • Margaret M. Whalen
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesTennessee State UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryTennessee State UniversityNashvilleUSA

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