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J Appl Toxicol. 2017 Apr;37(4):395-399. doi: 10.1002/jat.3422. Epub 2016 Dec 9.

Aflatoxin biomarkers in hair may facilitate long-term exposure studies.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa.
Department of Pathology, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia.
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa.


Aflatoxins are highly toxic fungal metabolites produced by some members of the Aspergillus species. They are low molecular weight lipophilic compounds that are easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. They contaminate most staple foods, including maize, peanuts, peanut butter and sorghum mainly in the tropics where hot and humid conditions promote fungal growth. Absorbed aflatoxins are metabolized by the cytochrome P450 enzyme system in the liver into toxic metabolites. Aflatoxin B (AFB)1 is the most toxic, carcinogenic and mutagenic naturally occurring toxin. Aflatoxin exposure assessment has been traditionally achieved through food use frequency questionnaires and laboratory analysis of food samples. However, estimation of individual exposure to aflatoxins based on these methods may not be accurate. The use of aflatoxin biomarkers in urine and blood for use in exposure studies has emerged in more recent times. However, the current biomarkers (e.g., AFB-N7 -guanine and AFB1 -albumin adduct) in use have a short half-life and are only practically useful to indicate levels over 24 h-3 months post-exposure. There is therefore an immediate need to study and evaluate alternative biomarkers in non-conventional matrices such as hair and nails. Hair analysis revealed considerable interest in forensic analysis particularly in the detection of drugs of abuse where it has emerged as a sensitive and specific technique complementary to blood and urinalysis. This article provides an overview of aflatoxins, current aflatoxin biomarkers and proposes the use of hair as a potential matrix for biomarkers of long-term aflatoxin exposure.


AFB1-N7-guanine adduct; AFB1-lysine adduct; AFM1; Aflatoxins; aflatoxin biomarkers; hair analysis

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