Arsenite is a cocarcinogen with solar ultraviolet radiation for mouse skin: an animal model for arsenic carcinogenesis

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2001 Oct 1;176(1):64-71. doi: 10.1006/taap.2001.9277.


Although epidemiological evidence shows an association between arsenic in drinking water and increased risk of skin, lung, and bladder cancers, arsenic compounds are not animal carcinogens. The lack of animal models has hindered mechanistic studies of arsenic carcinogenesis. Previously, this laboratory found that low concentrations of arsenite (the likely environmental carcinogen) which are not mutagenic can enhance the mutagenicity of other agents, including ultraviolet radiation (UVR). This enhancing effect appears to result from inhibition of DNA repair by arsenite. Recently we found that low concentrations of arsenite disrupted p53 function and upregulated cyclin D1. These results suggest that the failure to find an animal model for arsenic carcinogenesis is because arsenite is not a carcinogen per se, but rather acts as an enhancing agent (cocarcinogen) with a genotoxic partner. We tested this hypothesis with solar UVR as carcinogenic stimulus in hairless Skh1 mice. Mice given 10 mg/l sodium arsenite in drinking water for 26 weeks had a 2.4-fold increase in yield of tumors after 1.7 KJ/m(2) UVR three times weekly compared with mice given UVR alone. No tumors appeared in mice given arsenite alone. The tumors were mostly squamous cell carcinomas, and those occurring in mice given UVR plus arsenite appeared earlier and were much larger and more invasive than in mice given UVR alone. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that arsenic acts as a cocarcinogen with a second (genotoxic) agent by inhibiting DNA repair and/or enhancing positive growth signaling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenites / administration & dosage
  • Arsenites / toxicity*
  • Cocarcinogenesis
  • DNA Repair / drug effects
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Drinking
  • Female
  • Kinetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Hairless
  • Skin Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Ultraviolet Rays*


  • Arsenites
  • arsenite