Background: Chronic arsenic exposure has been shown to cause liver damage. However, serum hepatic enzyme activity as recognized on liver function tests (LFTs) showing a dose-response relationship with arsenic exposure has not yet been clearly documented. The aim of our study was to investigate the dose-response relationship between arsenic exposure and major serum enzyme marker activity associated with LFTs in the population living in arsenic-endemic areas in Bangladesh.
Methods: A total of 200 residents living in arsenic-endemic areas in Bangladesh were selected as study subjects. Arsenic concentrations in the drinking water, hair and nails were measured by Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectroscopy (ICP-MS). The study subjects were stratified into quartile groups as follows, based on concentrations of arsenic in the drinking water, as well as in subjects' hair and nails: lowest, low, medium and high. The serum hepatic enzyme activities of alkaline phosphatase (ALP), aspartate transaminase (AST) and alanine transaminase (ALT) were then assayed.
Results: Arsenic concentrations in the subjects' hair and nails were positively correlated with arsenic levels in the drinking water. As regards the exposure-response relationship with arsenic in the drinking water, the respective activities of ALP, AST and ALT were found to be significantly increased in the high-exposure groups compared to the lowest-exposure groups before and after adjustments were made for different covariates. With internal exposure markers (arsenic in hair and nails), the ALP, AST and ALT activity profiles assumed a similar shape of dose-response relationship, with very few differences seen in the higher groups compared to the lowest group, most likely due to the temporalities of exposure metrics.
Conclusions: The present study demonstrated that arsenic concentrations in the drinking water were strongly correlated with arsenic concentrations in the subjects' hair and nails. Further, this study revealed a novel exposure- and dose- response relationship between arsenic exposure metrics and serum hepatic enzyme activity. Elevated serum hepatic enzyme activities in the higher exposure gradients provided new insights into arsenic-induced liver toxicity that might be helpful for the early prognosis of arsenic-induced liver diseases.