Induction of proliferative lesions of the uterus, testes, and liver in swiss mice given repeated injections of sodium arsenate: possible estrogenic mode of action

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2000 Jul 1;166(1):24-35. doi: 10.1006/taap.2000.8963.


Inorganic arsenic (As) is a human carcinogen but has not been unequivocally proven carcinogenic in rodents. For instance, one older study indicates that repeated iv injections of sodium arsenate might induce lymphomas in Swiss mice (58% incidence) (Osswald and Goerttler, Verh. Dtsch. Ges. Pathol. 55, 289-293, 1971), but it was considered inadequate for critical evaluation of carcinogenic potential largely because of issues in experimental design. Therefore, we studied repeated iv sodium arsenate injection and neoplastic response in male and female Swiss mice. Groups (n = 25) of mice received sodium arsenate (0.5 mg/kg, iv) or saline (control) once/week for 20 weeks and were observed for a total of 96 weeks when the study ended. Differences in survival and body weights were unremarkable. In females, arsenate induced marked increases in the incidence and severity of cystic hyperplasia of the uterus compared against controls. Arsenate also was associated with a rare adenocarcinoma of the uterus. Hyperplastic uterine epithelium from arsenate-exposed animals showed strong positive immunostaining for the proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). There was also an upregulation of estrogen receptor (ER) immunoreactive protein in the early lesions of uterine luminal and glandular hyperplasia, although a progressive decrease in its expression was seen in the severe hyperplastic or neoplastic epithelium. In common with the preneoplastic and neoplastic gynecological lesions in humans, the levels of immunoreactive inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and 3-nitrotyrosine-containing proteins were greater in the uterine hyperplastic epidermis and their intensity was positively correlated with the severity of the lesions. Arsenate-induced uterine hyperplastic lesions also showed a strong upregulation of cyclin D1, an estrogen-associated gene product essential for progression through the G1 phase of the cell cycle. In other tissues, arsenate increased testicular interstitial cell hyperplasia incidence and severity over control but without affecting the incidence of tubular degeneration. Arsenate also induced increases in hepatic proliferative lesions (HPL; foci of alteration + neoplasia), but only in females. Significant skin changes (incidence of hyperkeratotic lesions) and renal lesions (severity of nephropathy) also occurred in arsenate-treated females. Thus, repeated arsenate exposure, though not outright tumorigenic in the present study, was associated with proliferative, preneoplastic lesions of the uterus, testes, and liver. Estrogen treatment has been associated with proliferative lesions and tumors of the uterus, female liver, and testes in other studies, supporting a hypothesis that arsenate might somehow act through an estrogenic mode of action.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenates / administration & dosage
  • Arsenates / toxicity*
  • Estrogens / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Testis / drug effects*
  • Testis / pathology
  • Uterus / drug effects*
  • Uterus / pathology


  • Arsenates
  • Estrogens
  • sodium arsenate