Review on the toxicity, occurrence, metabolism, detoxification, regulations and intake of zearalenone: an oestrogenic mycotoxin

Food Chem Toxicol. 2007 Jan;45(1):1-18. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2006.07.030. Epub 2006 Aug 30.


Zearalenone (ZEA) is a mycotoxin produced mainly by fungi belonging to the genus Fusarium in foods and feeds. It is frequently implicated in reproductive disorders of farm animals and occasionally in hyperoestrogenic syndromes in humans. There is evidence that ZEA and its metabolites possess oestrogenic activity in pigs, cattle and sheep. However, ZEA is of a relatively low acute toxicity after oral or interperitoneal administration in mice, rat and pig. The biotransformation for ZEA in animals involves the formation of two metabolites alpha-zearalenol (alpha-ZEA) and beta-zearalenol (beta-ZEA) which are subsequently conjugated with glucuronic acid. Moreover, ZEA has also been shown to be hepatotoxic, haematotoxic, immunotoxic and genotoxic. The exact mechanism of ZEA toxicity is not completely established. This paper gives an overview about the acute, subacute and chronic toxicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, carcinogenicity, genotoxicity and immunotoxicity of ZEA and its metabolites. ZEA is commonly found on several foods and feeds in the temperate regions of Europe, Africa, Asia, America and Oceania. Recent data about the worldwide contamination of foods and feeds by ZEA are considered in this review. Due to economic losses engendered by ZEA and its impact on human and animal health, several strategies for detoxifying contaminated foods and feeds have been described in the literature including physical, chemical and biological process. Dietary intakes of ZEA were reported from few countries from the world. The mean dietary intakes for ZEA have been estimated at 20 ng/kgb.w./day for Canada, Denmark and Norway and at 30 ng/kgb.w./day for the USA. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) established a provisional maximum tolerable daily intake (PMTDI) for ZEA of 0.5 microg/kg of body weight.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed / analysis
  • Animal Feed / standards
  • Animals
  • Eating
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal* / analysis
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal* / pharmacokinetics
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal* / toxicity
  • Food Microbiology / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Food Microbiology / standards
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Mycotoxicosis / epidemiology
  • Mycotoxicosis / etiology
  • Mycotoxicosis / prevention & control*
  • Toxicity Tests
  • Zearalenone* / analysis
  • Zearalenone* / pharmacokinetics
  • Zearalenone* / toxicity


  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Zearalenone