Arsenic neurotoxicity--a review

Hum Exp Toxicol. 2007 Oct;26(10):823-32. doi: 10.1177/0960327107084539.


Arsenic (As) is one of the oldest poisons known to men. Its applications throughout history are wide and varied: murder, make-up, paint and even as a pesticide. Chronic As toxicity is a global environmental health problem, affecting millions of people in the USA and Germany to Bangladesh and Taiwan. Worldwide, As is released into the environment by smelting of various metals, combustion of fossil fuels, as herbicides and fungicides in agricultural products. The drinking water in many countries, which is tapped from natural geological resources, is also contaminated as a result of the high level of As in groundwater. The environmental fate of As is contamination of surface and groundwater with a contaminant level higher than 10 particle per billion (ppb) as set by World Health Organization (WHO). Arsenic exists in both organic and inorganic species and either form can also exist in a trivalent or pentavalent oxidation state. Long-term health effects of exposure to these As metabolites are severe and highly variable: skin and lung cancer, neurological effects, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Neurological effects of As may develop within a few hours after ingestion, but usually are seen in 2-8 weeks after exposure. It is usually a symmetrical sensorimotor neuropathy, often resembling the Guillain-Barré syndrome. The predominant clinical features of neuropathy are paresthesias, numbness and pain, particularly in the soles of the feet. Electrophysiological studies performed on patients with As neuropathy have revealed a reduced nerve conduction velocity, typical of those seen in axonal degeneration. Most of the adverse effects of As, are caused by inactivated enzymes in the cellular energy pathway, whereby As reacts with the thiol groups of proteins and enzymes and inhibits their catalytic activity. Furthermore, As-induced neurotoxicity, like many other neurodegenerative diseases, causes changes in cytoskeletal protein composition and hyperphosphorylation. These changes may lead to disorganization of the cytoskeletal framework, which is a potential mechanism of As-induced neurotoxicity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenic / metabolism
  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • Arsenic Poisoning / diagnosis
  • Arsenic Poisoning / therapy
  • DNA Repair / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / etiology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Arsenic