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Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2008 Feb;102(2):204-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-7843.2007.00168.x.

Health effects of early life exposure to arsenic.

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Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Inorganic arsenic is a potent human carcinogen and general toxicant. More than one hundred million people are exposed to elevated concentrations, mainly via drinking water, but also via industrial emissions. Arsenic is metabolized via methylation and reduction reactions, methylarsonic acid and dimethylarsinic acid being the main metabolites excreted in urine. Both inorganic arsenic and its methylated metabolites easily pass the placenta and both experimental and human studies have shown increased risk of impaired foetal growth and increased foetal loss. Recent studies indicate that prenatal arsenic exposure also increases the risk of adverse effects during early childhood. There is a growing body of evidence that the intrauterine or early childhood exposure to arsenic also induces changes that will become apparent much later in life. One epidemiological study indicated that exposure to arsenic in drinking water during early childhood or in utero was associated with an increased mortality in young adults from both malignant and non-malignant lung disease. Furthermore, a series of experimental animal studies provide strong support for late effects of arsenic, including various forms of cancer, following intrauterine arsenic exposure. The involved modes of action include epigenetic effects, mainly via DNA hypomethylation, endocrine effects (most classes of steroid hormones), immune suppression, neurotoxicity, and interaction with enzymes critical for foetal development and programming.

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