Sodium fluoroacetate poisoning

Toxicol Rev. 2006;25(4):213-9. doi: 10.2165/00139709-200625040-00002.


Sodium fluoroacetate was introduced as a rodenticide in the US in 1946. However, its considerable efficacy against target species is offset by comparable toxicity to other mammals and, to a lesser extent, birds and its use as a general rodenticide was therefore severely curtailed by 1990. Currently, sodium fluoroacetate is licensed in the US for use against coyotes, which prey on sheep and goats, and in Australia and New Zealand to kill unwanted introduced species. The extreme toxicity of fluoroacetate to mammals and insects stems from its similarity to acetate, which has a pivotal role in cellular metabolism. Fluoroacetate combines with coenzyme A (CoA-SH) to form fluoroacetyl CoA, which can substitute for acetyl CoA in the tricarboxylic acid cycle and reacts with citrate synthase to produce fluorocitrate, a metabolite of which then binds very tightly to aconitase, thereby halting the cycle. Many of the features of fluoroacetate poisoning are, therefore, largely direct and indirect consequences of impaired oxidative metabolism. Energy production is reduced and intermediates of the tricarboxylic acid cycle subsequent to citrate are depleted. Among these is oxoglutarate, a precursor of glutamate, which is not only an excitatory neurotransmitter in the CNS but is also required for efficient removal of ammonia via the urea cycle. Increased ammonia concentrations may contribute to the incidence of seizures. Glutamate is also required for glutamine synthesis and glutamine depletion has been observed in the brain of fluoroacetate-poisoned rodents. Reduced cellular oxidative metabolism contributes to a lactic acidosis. Inability to oxidise fatty acids via the tricarboxylic acid cycle leads to ketone body accumulation and worsening acidosis. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) depletion results in inhibition of high energy-consuming reactions such as gluconeogenesis. Fluoroacetate poisoning is associated with citrate accumulation in several tissues, including the brain. Fluoride liberated from fluoroacetate, citrate and fluorocitrate are calcium chelators and there are both animal and clinical data to support hypocalcaemia as a mechanism of fluoroacetate toxicity. However, the available evidence suggests the fluoride component does not contribute. Acute poisoning with sodium fluoroacetate is uncommon. Ingestion is the major route by which poisoning occurs. Nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain are common within 1 hour of ingestion. Sweating, apprehension, confusion and agitation follow. Both supraventricular and ventricular arrhythmias have been reported and nonspecific ST- and T-wave changes are common, the QTc may be prolonged and hypotension may develop. Seizures are the main neurological feature. Coma may persist for several days. Although several possible antidotes have been investigated, they are of unproven value in humans. The immediate, and probably only, management of fluoroacetate poisoning is therefore supportive, including the correction of hypocalcaemia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Fluoroacetates / pharmacokinetics
  • Fluoroacetates / poisoning*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Nervous System Diseases / therapy
  • Poisoning / epidemiology
  • Poisoning / etiology*
  • Poisoning / therapy
  • Rodenticides / pharmacokinetics
  • Rodenticides / poisoning*


  • Fluoroacetates
  • Rodenticides
  • fluoroacetic acid