Association between body mass index and arsenic methylation efficiency in adult women from southwest U.S. and northwest Mexico

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2011 Apr 15;252(2):176-82. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2011.02.007. Epub 2011 Feb 12.


Human arsenic methylation efficiency has been consistently associated with arsenic-induced disease risk. Interindividual variation in arsenic methylation profiles is commonly observed in exposed populations, and great effort has been put into the study of potential determinants of this variability. Among the factors that have been evaluated, body mass index (BMI) has not been consistently associated with arsenic methylation efficiency; however, an underrepresentation of the upper BMI distribution was commonly observed in these studies. This study investigated potential factors contributing to variations in the metabolism of arsenic, with specific interest in the effect of BMI where more than half of the population was overweight or obese. We studied 624 adult women exposed to arsenic in drinking water from three independent populations. Multivariate regression models showed that higher BMI, arsenic (+3 oxidation state) methyltransferase (AS3MT) genetic variant 7388, and higher total urinary arsenic were significantly associated with low percentage of urinary arsenic excreted as monomethylarsonic acid (%uMMA) or high ratio between urinary dimethylarsinic acid and uMMA (uDMA/uMMA), while AS3MT genetic variant M287T was associated with high %uMMA and low uDMA/uMMA. The association between BMI and arsenic methylation efficiency was also evident in each of the three populations when studied separately. This strong association observed between high BMI and low %uMMA and high uDMA/uMMA underscores the importance of BMI as a potential arsenic-associated disease risk factor, and should be carefully considered in future studies associating human arsenic metabolism and toxicity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arsenic / metabolism
  • Arsenic / toxicity
  • Arsenic Poisoning / epidemiology*
  • Arsenic Poisoning / metabolism*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Methylation / drug effects
  • Mexico / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Southwestern United States / epidemiology
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Arsenic