Metabolism, toxicity and anticancer activities of arsenic compounds

Islam Khairul, Qian Qian Wang, Yu Han Jiang, Chao Wang and Hua Naranmandura _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:23905-23926. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.14733

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Islam Khairul1, Qian Qian Wang1,2, Yu Han Jiang1,3, Chao Wang1 and Hua Naranmandura1,2,3

1 Department of Toxicology, School of Medicine and Public Health, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

2 College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

3 Ocean College, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

Correspondence to:

Hua Naranmandura, email:

Keywords: arsenite, acute promyelocytic leukemia

Received: November 23, 2016 Accepted: January 11, 2017 Published: January 18, 2017


A variety of studies indicated that inorganic arsenic and its methylated metabolites have paradoxical effects, namely, carcinogenic and anticancer effects. Epidemiological studies have shown that long term exposure to arsenic can increase the risk of cancers of lung, skin or bladder in man, which is probably associated with the arsenic metabolism. In fact, the enzymatic conversion of inorganic arsenic by Arsenic (+3 oxidation state) methyltransferase (AS3MT) to mono- and dimethylated arsenic species has long been considered as a major route for detoxification. However, several studies have also indicated that biomethylation of inorganic arsenic, particularly the production of trivalent methylated metabolites, is a process that activates arsenic as a toxin and a carcinogen. On the other hand, arsenic trioxide (As2O3) has recently been recognized as one of the most effective drugs for the treatment of APL. However, elaboration of the cytotoxic mechanisms of arsenic and its methylated metabolites in eradicating cancer is sorely lacking. To provide a deeper understanding of the toxicity and carcinogenicity along with them use of arsenic in chemotherapy, caution is required considering the poor understanding of its various mechanisms of exerting toxicity. Thereby, in this review, we have focused on arsenic metabolic pathway, the roles of the methylated arsenic metabolites in toxicity and in the therapeutic efficacy for the treatments of solid tumors, APL and/or non-APL malignancies.

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