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Alison Bauer, Ph.D. (2000), ATSF, University of Colorado

Environmental, Occupational and Cancer Research

Bauer Laboratory Research Interests

Role of environmental and occupational exposures in respiratory disease, including chronic inflammation and carcinogenesis

  • Constituents of 2nd and 3rd-hand cigarette smoke (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs)
  • Contaminants of particulate air pollution and soil (e.g., PAHs, vanadium
  • Susceptibility differences in nanomaterials (e.g., multi-walled carbon nanotubes)

Role of the innate immune system in pulmonary neoplastic and non-neoplastic diseases

  • Toll-like receptors and additional innate immune markers in pulmonary neoplasia
  • Epiregulin involvement in the pathogenesis of squamous NSCLC
  • TLR4 and heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70) in ozone-induced lung injury and inflammation

Prevention of respiratory diseases through chemoprevention


 Current Projects


Environmental and Occupational Research

Investigating the role of PAHs in respiratory diseases induced by 2nd-hand smoke and other environmental exposures

Secondhand smoke (2nd-hand) is associated with many diseases including respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), childhood and adult asthma, and lung cancer.[1,2] In certain occupations in the U.S., 2nd-hand smoke exposure was or still is greater than many occupations, such as flight attendants and casino workers.[3-7] Little is currently known about the human health effects of thirdhand (3rd-hand) smoke, components of 2nd-hand smoke that persist on walls, carpets, and other areas in indoor environments, and contain PAHs, such as fluoranthene, among other cigarette components.[10]However, based on multiple assessments of 3rd-hand smoke constituents[7,10-14], inhalation of these toxicants should not be overlooked. Unfortunately, due to the latency of many chronic pulmonary diseases, individuals exposed to 2nd and 3rd-hand smoke can observe effects years after exposure. Thus, the effects of these exposures are a real concern for human health at all ages.

Our research in collaboration with Dr. Upham (Michigan State University) focuses on the most abundant PAHs in 2nd and 3rd-hand smoke, the low molecular weight fractions, particularly the two-four-ringed PAHs (such as fluoranthene)[15-17] and their role in pulmonary inflammation and cell-cell communication (see Osgood et al., 2013; 2017). Recent studies focus on investigation of downstream signaling events following several "omics" studies with Drs. Pierre Bushel (NIEHS) and Dr. Nichole Reisdorph (UCD SOP).

Additional current projects:


1. CDC (2008) Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States, 2000–2004. Atlanta, GA. 1226–1228 p.

2. CDC (2010) Vital Signs: Nonsmokers' Exposure to Secondhand Smoke --- United States, 1999--2008. Atlanta, GA. 1141-1146 p.

3. Achutan C et al., (2011) J Occup Environ Med 53: 346-351.

4. Arjomandi M, Haight T, Redberg R, Gold WM (2009) J Occup Environ Med 51: 639-646.

5. Beatty AL, Haight TJ, Redberg RF (2011) Environ Health 10: 81.

6. Ebbert JO et al. (2007) Environ Health 6: 28.

7. Pilkington PA, Gray S, Gilmore AB (2007) BMC Public Health 7: 257.

8. CDC (2012) Current tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure among women of reproductive age - 14 countries, 2008-2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 61: 877-882.

9. He Y et al. (2012) Chest.

10. Schick SF et al. (2013) Tob Control.

11. Becquemin MH et al. (2010) Tob Control 19: 347-348.

12. Hang B et al. (2013) Mutagenesis 28: 381-391.

13. Matt GE, et. al. (2011) Environ Health Perspect 119: 1218-1226.

14. Tillett T (2011) Environ Health Perspect 119: a399.

15. Lee HL, Hsieh DP, Li LA (2010) Chemosphere 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2010.09.045.

16. Moir D et al. (2008) Chem Res Toxicol 21: 494-502.

17. Severson RF et al. (1976) Isolation, identification, and quantification of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons in tobacco smoke. In: Freudenthal RI, and Jones, P.W., editor. Carcinogenesis- A comprehensive survey Vol 1 Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons: Chemistry, metabolism, and carcinogenesis. New York, New York: Raven Press. pp. 253-270.​​​​​​​​​​

Basic Cancer Research

The role of toll-like receptors in pulmonary neoplasia

More people will succumb to lung cancer this year than any other type of cancer. Lung adenocarcinoma (AC), a subtype of non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC), is increasing at a faster rate than any other type of lung neoplasia, is the most common among nonsmokers, and is rarely detected early. Chronic inflammatory lung diseases predispose the lung to neoplasia. However, activation of certain innate immune pathways may confer protection against lung AC development. For example, several epidemiology studies observed significant decreases in lung cancer risk in those individuals exposed to endotoxin, such as farm and textile workers.[18-23] Our long-term goal is to determine if TLR4, other TLR receptors, and associated molecular events are involved in the underlying mechanisms that govern this association between the innate immune system and lung carcinogenesis, which may provide novel preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic strategies for a disease that severely lacks in identifiable biomarkers.

We previously demonstrated that TLR4-deficient mice (BALBLps-d) were significantly more sensitive to lung tumor promotion and pulmonary inflammation at both early and advanced stages of disease than the Tlr4-wild-type mice (BALB/c) using a two stage initiation/promotion model (see Bauer 2005, 2009). Our recent studies, funded by the American Cancer Society (RSG-10-162-01-LIB; AKB), focused on the differential innate immune cell signatures involved in mediating the responses in mice lacking TLR4 (see Alexander et al. 2016) and downstream signaling pathways, such as cell-cell communication (see Hill et al. 2013).

In addition to these rodent studies, our most recent study (Bauer et. al., 2017) demonstrated that in humans, the mRNA expression of TLRs1-10 is associated with improved survival outcomes in NSCLC, specifically early stage adenocarcinoma. Thus, further evaluation of their predictive capacity and therapeutic utility is warranted.

Additional current projects:

  • Investigation of epiregulin invovlement in the pathogenesis of NSCLC (see Bauer et al., 2016) in collaboration with Drs. Merrick, Tennis, and Nield (UCD and CO VA).
  • Investigation of MUC5AC in lung carcinogenesis in collaboration with Drs. Evans (UCD SOM) and Moghaddam​ (MD Anderson).


18. Astrakianakis G et al. (2007) Lung cancer risk among female textile workers exposed to endotoxin. J Natl Cancer Inst 99: 357-364.

19. Laakkonen A et al. (2006) Occupational exposure to eight organic dusts and respiratory cancer among Finns. Occup Environ Med 63: 726-733.

20. Lange JH et al. (2003) Will sewage workers with endotoxin related symptoms have the benefit of reduced lung cancer? Occup Environ Med 60: 144-145.

21. Mastrangelo G et al. (2002) Epidemiologic evidence of cancer risk in textile industry workers: a review and update. Toxicol Ind Health 18: 171-181.

22. Mastrangelo G et al. (2005) Lung cancer risk: effect of dairy farming and the consequence of removing that occupational exposure. Am J Epidemiol 161: 1037-1046.

23. Lundin JI, Checkoway H (2009) Endotoxin and cancer. Environ Health Perspect 117: 1344-1350.​​​​

Current Lab Members

Kalpana Velmurugan, PhD
Senior PRA

Makkila Melton
Student Research Assistant

Former Lab Members


Ross Osgood, PhD, Former graduate student in Toxicology; Currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard School of Public Health

Carla Alexander, PhD, Former post-doctoral fellow; Currently at Nexgen Pathology, Trinidad

Elizabeth Rondini, PhD, Former post-doctoral fellow; Research Scientist, Wayne State

Katelyn Siegrist, Ph.D., Former post-doctoral fellow, Mylan Pharmaceuticals


Deedee Romo

Undergraduate students from University of Colorado Denver and Boulder

  • Ka-Na Xiong
  • Julie Xiong
  • Rana Brooks
  • Victoria Churchill-Hinton
  • Zachary Leins
  • Dylan Van
Undergraduates from School of Mines
  • Lindsey Nield




Dr. Brad Upham, Department of Pediatrics and Human Development, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

Dr. Donald Backos, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of the Computational Chemistry and Biology Core, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, CO

Dr. Nichole Reisdorph, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of Mass Spectrometry Core, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, CO

Dr. Seyed Javad Moghaddam, Department of Pulmonary Medicine, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX

Dr. Linda Sargent, Molecular Genetics Laboratory, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, West Virginia (retired)

Drs. Steven Kleeberger and Hye Youn Cho, Laboratory of Respiratory Biology, Environmental Genetics Group, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, RTP, NC

Dr. Daniel Merrick, Division of Medicine, Department of Pathology, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, CO


Dr. Heiko Käfferlein, Head for the Center for Toxicology, Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine of the German Social Accident Insurance, Institute der Ruhr-Universität-Bochum (IPA)

Dr. Sabine Plöttner, Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine of the German Social Accident Insurance, Institute der Ruhr-Universität-Bochum (IPA)

Dr. Pavel Babica, Masaryk University, Research Center for Toxic Compounds in the Environment, Brno, Czech Republic

Dr. Iva Sovadinova​, Masaryk University, Research Center for Toxic Compounds in the Environment, Brno, Czech Republic

Recent Publications

Romo D, Velmurugan K, Upham BL, Dwyer-Nield LD, Bauer AK. Dysregulation of Gap Junction Function and Cytokine Production in Response to Non-Genotoxic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in an In Vitro Lung Cell Model. Cancers (Basel). 2019 Apr 23;11(4). doi: 10.3390/cancers11040572. PubMed PMID: 31018556; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6521202.

Siegrist KJ, Romo D, Upham BL, Armstrong M, Quinn K, Vanderlinden L, Osgood RS, Velmurugan K, Elie M, Manke J, Reinhold D, Reisdorph N, Saba L, Bauer AK. Early Mechanistic Events Induced by Low Molecular Weight Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Mouse Lung Epithelial Cells: A Role for Eicosanoid Signaling. Toxicol Sci. 2019 May 1;169(1):180-193. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfz030. PubMed PMID: 30690640; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6484882.

Shin N, Velmurugan K, Su C, Bauer AK, Tsai CSJ. Assessment of fine particles released during paper printing and shredding processes. Environ Sci Process Impacts. 2019 May 3;. doi: 10.1039/c9em00015a. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 31049512.

Bauer AK, Umer M, Richardson VL, Cumpian AM, Harder AQ, Khosravi N, Azzegagh Z, Hara NM, Ehre C, Mohebnasab M, Caetano MS, Merrick DT, van Bokhoven A, Wistuba II, Kadara H, Dickey BF, Velmurugan K, Mann PR, Lu X, Barón AE, Evans CM, Moghaddam SJ. Requirement for MUC5AC in KRAS-dependent lung carcinogenesis. JCI Insight. 2018 Aug 9;3(15). doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.120941. eCollection 2018 Aug 9. PubMed PMID: 30089720; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6129115.

Johnson M, Alsaleh N, Mendoza RP, Persaud I, Bauer AK, Saba L, Brown JM. Genomic and transcriptomic comparison of allergen and silver nanoparticle-induced mast cell degranulation reveals novel non-immunoglobulin E mediated mechanisms. PLoS One. 2018;13(3):e0193499. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0193499. eCollection 2018. PubMed PMID: 29566008; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5863960.

Bauer AK, Velmurugan K, Plöttner S, Siegrist KJ, Romo D, Welge P, Brüning T, Xiong KN, Käfferlein HU. Environmentally prevalent polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can elicit co-carcinogenic properties in an in vitro murine lung epithelial cell model. Arch Toxicol. 2018 Mar;92(3):1311-1322. doi: 10.1007/s00204-017-2124-5. Epub 2017 Nov 23. PubMed PMID: 29170806; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5866845.

Bauer AK, Upham BL, Rondini EA, Tennis MA, Velmuragan K, Wiese D. Toll-like receptor expression in human non-small cell lung carcinoma: potential prognostic indicators of disease. Oncotarget. 2017 Nov 3;8(54):91860-91875. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.19463. eCollection 2017 Nov 3. PubMed PMID: 29190881; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5696147.

Osgood RS, Upham BL, Bushel PR, Velmurugan K, Xiong KN, Bauer AK. Secondhand Smoke-Prevalent Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Binary Mixture-Induced Specific Mitogenic and Pro-inflammatory Cell Signaling Events in Lung Epithelial Cells. Toxicol Sci. 2017 May 1;157(1):156-171. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfx027. PubMed PMID: 28329830; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5808746.

    All publications


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