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Biol Trace Elem Res. 1996 Dec;55(3):231-9.

Biochemistry of tellurium.

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  • 1Trace Elements Laboratory, Robens Institute, University of Surrey, England.


Tellurium (Te) demonstrates properties similar to those of elements known to be toxic to humans, and has applications in industrial processes, which are rapidly growing in importance and scale. It is relevant, therefore, to consider the tellurium physiology, toxicity, and methods for monitoring the element in biological and environmental specimens. Animal studies suggest that up to 25% of orally administered tellurium is absorbed in the gut. There is a biphasic elimination from the circulation with loss of about 50% within a short period, t1/2 = 0.81 d, and slower elimination of the residual Te, t1/2 = 12.9 d. Following a single ip, injection the largest proportion is in the kidney and bone, but with repeated oral administration, Te is found in the heart > > kidney, spleen, bone, and lung. Formation of dimethyl telluride is a characteristic feature of exposure, and gives a pungent garlic-like odor to breath, excreta, and the viscera. The main target sites for Te toxicity are the kidney, nervous system, skin, and the fetus (hydrocephalus). Te can be reliable measured in different specimens by several analytical techniques. Recent work has employed hydride generation atomic absorption spectrometry. Topics for further investigation are proposed.

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