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Environ Health Perspect. 1986 Mar;65:363-441.

Metabolism and possible health effects of aluminum.


Literature regarding the biochemistry of aluminum and eight similar ions is reviewed. Close and hitherto unknown similarities were found. A hypothetical model is presented for the metabolism, based on documented direct observations of Al3+ and analogies from other ions. Main characteristics are low intestinal absorption, rapid urinary excretion, and slow tissue uptake, mostly in skeleton and reticuloendothelial cells. Intracellular Al3+ is probably first confined in the lysosomes but then slowly accumulates in the cell nucleus and chromatin. Large, long-lived cells, e.g., neurons, may be the most liable to this accumulation. In heterochromatin, Al3+ levels can be found comparable to those used in leather tannage. It is proposed that an accumulation may take place at a subcellular level without any significant increase in the corresponding tissue concentration. The possible effects of this accumulation are discussed. As Al3+ is neurotoxic, the brain metabolism is most interesting. The normal and the lethally toxic brain levels of Al3+ are well documented and differ only by a factor of 3-10. The normal brain uptake of Al3+ is estimated from data on intestinal uptake of Al3+ and brain uptake of radionuclides of similar ions administered intravenously. The uptake is very slow, 1 mg in 36 years, and is consistent with an assumption that Al3+ taken up by the brain cannot be eliminated and is therefore accumulated. The possibility that Al3+ may cause or contribute to some specific diseases, most of them related to aging, is discussed with the proposed metabolic picture in mind.

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