Arsenic: health effects, mechanisms of actions, and research issues

Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Jul;107(7):593-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.99107593.


A meeting on the health effects of arsenic (As), its modes of action, and areas in need of future research was held in Hunt Valley, Maryland, on 22-24 September 1997. Exposure to As in drinking water has been associated with the development of skin and internal cancers and noncarcinogenic effects such as diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, and cardiovascular diseases. There is little data on specific mechanism(s) of action for As, but a great deal of information on possible modes of action. Although arsenite [As(III)] can inhibit more than 200 enzymes, events underlying the induction of the noncarcinogenic effects of As are not understood. With respect to carcinogenicity, As can affect DNA repair, methylation of DNA, and increase radical formation and activation of the protooncogene c-myc, but none of these potential pathways have widespread acceptance as the principal etiologic event. In addition, there are no accepted models for the study of As-induced carcinogenesis. At the final meeting session we considered research needs. Among the most important areas cited were a) As metabolism and its interaction with cellular constituents; b) possible bioaccumulation of As; c) interactions with other metals; d) effects of As on genetic material; e) development of animal models and cell systems to study effects of As; and f) a better characterization of human exposures as related to health risks. Some of the barriers to the advancement of As research included an apparent lack of interest in the United States on As research; lack of relevant animal models; difficulty with adoption of uniform methodologies; lack of accepted biomarkers; and the need for a central storage repository for stored specimens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / metabolism
  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • DNA / drug effects
  • DNA Damage
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced


  • DNA
  • Arsenic