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Oral Oncol. 2001 Sep;37(6):477-92.

Role of areca nut in betel quid-associated chemical carcinogenesis: current awareness and future perspectives.

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  • 1Laboratory of Dental Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of Medicine, Graduate Institute of Clinical Dental Science, National Taiwan University, No. 1 Chang-Te Street, Taipei, Taiwan.


Betel quid (BQ)-chewing is a popular oral habit with potential links to the occurrence of oral cancer. Many of the literature-based studies reveal that areca nut (AN) extract may demonstrate mutagenic and genotoxic effects, in addition to inducing preneoplastic as well as neoplastic lesions in experimental animals. Areca nut should, thus, be highly suspected as a human carcinogen. Toxicity studies relating to AN-contained polyphenols and tannins are not conclusive, with both carcinogenic and anti-carcinogenic effects being reported. The mutagenicity and genotoxicity of areca alkaloids has been detected by many short-term assays. However, their genotoxicity to oral fibroblasts and keratinocytes, the target cells of BQ, has not been identified. It would thus appear that AN toxicity is not completely due to its polyphenol, tannin and alkaloid content. The single agent which is responsible for AN carcinogenicity awaits further clarification. Reactive oxygen species produced during auto-oxidation of AN polyphenols in the BQ-chewer's saliva, are crucial in the initiation and promotion of oral cancer. Nitrosation of areca alkaloids also produces AN-specific nitrosamines, that have been demonstrated to be mutagenic, genotoxic and are capable of inducing tumors in experimental animals. Arecaidine and AN extract are further suggested to be tumor promoters. Antioxidants such as glutathione and N-acetyl-L-cysteine can potentially prevent such AN-elicited cytotoxicity. Further studies are needed to delineate the metabolism of AN ingredient and their roles in the multi-step chemical carcinogenesis, in order to enhance the success of the future chemoprevention of oral cancer and oral submucous fibrosis.

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