Dietary modulation of the biotransformation and genotoxicity of aflatoxin B(1)

Toxicology. 2012 Sep 28;299(2-3):69-79. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2012.05.016. Epub 2012 May 26.


Diet and its various components are consistently identified as among the most important 'risk factors' for cancer worldwide, yet great uncertainty remains regarding the relative contribution of nutritive (e.g., vitamins, calories) vs. non-nutritive (e.g., phytochemicals, fiber, contaminants) factors in both cancer induction and cancer prevention. Among the most potent known human dietary carcinogens is the mycotoxin, aflatoxin B(1) (AFB). AFB and related aflatoxins are produced as secondary metabolites by the molds Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus that commonly infect poorly stored foods including peanuts, pistachios, corn, and rice. AFB is a potent hepatocarcinogenic agent in numerous animal species, and has been implicated in the etiology of human hepatocellular carcinoma. Recent research has shown that many diet-derived factors have great potential to influence AFB biotransformation, and some efficiently protect from AFB-induced genotoxicity. One key mode of action for reducing AFB-induced carcinogenesis in experimental animals was shown to be the induction of detoxification enzymes such as certain glutathione-S-transferases that are regulated through the Keap1-Nrf2-ARE signaling pathway. Although initial studies utilized the dithiolthione drug, oltipraz, as a prototypical inducer of antioxidant response, dietary components such as suforaphane (SFN) are also effective inducers of this pathway in rodent models. However, human GSTs in general do not appear to be extensively induced by SFN, and GSTM1 - the only human GST with measurable catalytic activity toward aflatoxin B(1)-8,9-epoxide (AFBO; the genotoxic metabolite of AFB), does not appear to be induced by SFN, at least in human hepatocytes, even though its expression in human liver cells does appear to offer considerable protection against AFB-DNA damage. Although induction of detoxification pathways has served as the primary mechanistic focus of chemoprevention studies, protective effects of chemoprotective dietary components may also arise through a decrease in the rate of activation of AFB to AFBO. Dietary consumption of apiaceous vegetables inhibits CYP1A2 activity in humans, and it has been demonstrated that some compounds in those vegetables act as potent inhibitors of human CYP1A2 and cause reduced hCYP1A2-mediated mutagenicity of AFB. Other dietary compounds of different origin (e.g., constituents of brassica vegetables and hops) have been shown to modify expression of human hepatic enzymes involved in the oxidation of AFB. SFN has been shown to protect animals from AFB-induced tumors, to reduce AFB biomarkers in humans in vivo and to reduce efficiently AFB adduct formation in human hepatocytes, although it appears that this protective effect is the result of repression of human hepatic CYP3A4 expression, rather than induction of protective GSTs, at least in human hepatocytes. If this mechanism were to occur in vivo in humans, it would raise safety concerns for the use of SFN as a chemoprotective agent as it may have important implications for drug-drug interactions in humans. A dietary chemoprevention pathway that is independent of AFB biotransformation is represented by the potential for dietary components, such as chlorophyllin, to tightly bind to and reduce the bioavailability of aflatoxins. Chlorophyllin has been shown to significantly reduce genotoxic AFB biomarkers in humans, and it therefore holds promise as a practical means of reducing the incidence of AFB-induced liver cancer. Recent reports have demonstrated that DNA repair mechanisms are inducible in mammalian systems and some diet-derived compounds elevated significantly the gene expression of enzymes potentially involved in nucleotide excision repair of AFB-DNA adducts. However, these are initial observations and more research is needed to determine if dietary modulation of DNA repair is a safe and effective approach to chemoprevention of AFB-induced liver cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aflatoxin B1 / pharmacokinetics*
  • Aflatoxin B1 / poisoning*
  • Aflatoxin B1 / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Brassica
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A2 / metabolism
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Liver Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Liver Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Mutagens / metabolism
  • Mutagens / toxicity


  • Mutagens
  • Aflatoxin B1
  • CYP1A2 protein, human
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A2
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP3A
  • CYP3A4 protein, human