Cancer Institute

  • Kristine L. Willett

    willett_kristine.jpgProfessor, Department of Pharmacology
    Cancer Genetics Program
    PhD, Toxicology, 1997, Texas A&M University
    Postdoc, 1998-2000, Duke University
    Postdoc, 1997-98, Indiana University

    Contact information
    Box 1848, 305 Faser Hall
    School of Pharmacy
    University, MS 38677
    Phone: (662) 915-6691

    Research interests

    • Carcinogenic, endocrine disruptive and developmental effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposure
    • Using zebrafish to study the developmental origin of adult disease and potential for multigenerational effects mediated by epigenetic mechanisms
    • Fish embryo and gill toxicity of manufactured silver nanoparticles
    • Mechanisms of action of constituents of natural products in cancer cell lines

    Research synopsis

    There is a new appreciation that environmental factors that act during key developmental stages can increase the risk of developing adult disease, and that this disease susceptibility can be passed on multi- or transgenerationally. Fish are a well suited, but underutilized, model organism for testing the multigenerational and epigenetic consequences of environmental contaminant exposure. PAHs are ubiquitous environmental contaminants that have been long recognized as carcinogens but more recently are being recognized for the reproductive and developmental toxicities. Specifically, we use zebrafish to probe mechanisms of multigenerational toxicity of an environmentally relevant endocrine disruptor benzo[a]pyrene. Funded by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

    The nanoparticle industry is booming, and silver nanoparticles specifically have the highest number of new uses compared to any other. Unfortunately, the toxicological implications of the environmental release of these particles is largely unknown and no regulatory framework exists for them. Our studies not only highlight mechanisms of toxicity but provide useful information for setting risk guidelines. Funded by US Army Corps of Engineers.
    Many natural products have been suggested as having cancer chemopreventative properties. We use prostate or endometrial cells to further explore the molecular mechanisms of particular constituents present in natural products. 

    Recent accomplishments and honors

    • Editorial Board Member of Toxicological Sciences and Aquatic Toxicology

    Selected publications

    • Transcriptomic Changes in Zebrafish Embryos and Larvae Following Benzo[a]pyrene Exposure. Fang X, Corrales J, Thornton C, Clerk T, Scheffler BE, Willett KL. Toxicol Sci. 2015 May 21. pii: kfv105. [Epub ahead of print]
    • Gill histopathologies following exposure to nanosilver or silver nitrate; Hawkins AD, Thornton C, Kennedy AJ, Bu K, Cizdziel J, Jones BW, Steevens JA, Willett KL.; J Toxicol Environ Health A. March, 2015;78(5):301-15. doi: 10.1080/15287394.2014.971386.
    • Alteration in Pimephales promelas mucus production after exposure to nanosilver or silver nitrate;  Hawkins AD, Thornton C, Steevens JA, Willett KL.;  Environ Toxicol Chem. 2014 Dec; 33(12):2869-72. doi: 10.1002/etc.2759. Epub 2014 Oct 27.
    • Identification of silver nanoparticles in Pimephales promelas gastrointestinal tract and gill tissues using flow field flow fractionation ICP-MS; Hawkins, A.D., Bednar, A.J., Cizdziel, J.V., Bu, K., Steevens, J.A., and Willett, K.L., 2014. RSC Advances. 4, 41277-41280.
    • Multigenerational effects of benzo[a]pyrene exposure on survival and developmental deformities in zebrafish larvae. Corrales J, Thornton C, White M, Willett KL.  Aquat Toxicol. 2014 Mar;148:16-26. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2013.12.028. Epub 2014 Jan 3. PMID: 24440964
    •  Benzo[a]pyrene decreases global and gene specific DNA methylation during zebrafish development. Fang, X., Thornton, C., Scheffler, B.E., and Willett, K.L., 2013. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology. 36, 40-50.   
    • Assimilation of oil-derived elements by oysters due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  Carmichael, R.H., Jones, A.L,  Patterson, H.K., Walton,W.C., Pérez-Huerta, A.,  Overton, E.B.,  Dailey, M., and Willett,K.L., 2012.  Environmental Science and Technology. 46, 12787-12795.
    • Effects of flavonoids on CYP1 expression in RL95-2 endometrial carcinoma cells. Master, Z., Chaudhary, A., Sutter, T.R., and Willett, K.L. 2012.  Food Chemistry. 133: 912-922.
    • Comparative chronic liver toxicity of benzo[a]pyrene in two populations of the Atlantic killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) with different exposure histories. Wills, L.P., Jung, D., Koehrn, K., Zhu, S., Willett, K.L., Hinton, D.E. and Di Giulio, R.T. 2010.  Environmental Health Perspectives. 118: 1376-1381.
    • Benzo[a]pyrene increases glycine N-methyltransferase mRNA expression but decreases enzyme activity in Fundulus heteroclitus embryos. Fang, X., Dong, W., Thornton, C., and Willett, K.L. 2010.Aquatic Toxicology 98:130-138.