Nutritional manipulation of one-carbon metabolism: effects on arsenic methylation and toxicity

J Toxicol. 2012;2012:595307. doi: 10.1155/2012/595307. Epub 2012 Mar 14.


Exposure to arsenic (As) through drinking water is a substantial problem worldwide. The methylation of As, a reactive metalloid, generates monomethyl- (MMA) and dimethyl-arsenical (DMA) species. The biochemical pathway that catalyzes these reactions, one-carbon metabolism, is regulated by folate and other micronutrients. Arsenic methylation exerts a critical influence on both its urinary elimination and chemical reactivity. Mice having the As methyltransferase null genotype show reduced urinary As excretion, increased As retention, and severe systemic toxicity. The most toxic As metabolite in vitro is MMA(III), an intermediate in the generation of DMA(V), a much less toxic metabolite. These findings have raised the question of whether As methylation is a detoxification or bioactivation pathway. Results of population-based studies suggest that complete methylation of inorganic As to DMA is associated with reduced risk for As-induced health outcomes, and that nutrients involved in one-carbon metabolism, such as folate, can facilitate As methylation and elimination.