Effect of sulfide on the cytotoxicity of arsenite and arsenate in human hepatocytes (HepG2) and human urothelial cells (UROtsa)

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2014 Sep;21(17):10151-62. doi: 10.1007/s11356-014-2950-4. Epub 2014 May 1.


Arsenic, a common poison, is known to react with sulfide in vivo, forming thioarsenates. The acute toxicity of the inorganic thioarsenates is currently unknown. Our experiments showed that a fourfold sulfide excess reduced acute arsenite cytotoxicity in human hepatocytes (HepG2) and urothelial cells (UROtsa) significantly, but had little effect on arsenate toxicity. Speciation analysis showed immediate formation of thioarsenates (up to 73 % of total arsenic) in case of arsenite, but no speciation changes for arsenate. Testing acute toxicity of mono- and trithioarsenate individually, both thioarsenates were found to be more toxic than their structural analogue arsenate, but less toxic than arsenite. Toxicity increased with the number of thio groups. The amount of cellular arsenic uptake after 24 h corresponded to the order of toxicity of the four compounds tested. The dominant to almost exclusive intracellular arsenic species was arsenite. The results imply that thiolation is a detoxification process for arsenite in sulfidic milieus. The mechanism could either be that thioarsenates regulate the amount of free arsenite available for cellular uptake without entering the cells themselves, or, based on their chemical similarity to arsenate, they could be taken up by similar transporters and reduced rapidly intracellularly to arsenite.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arsenates / toxicity*
  • Arsenic
  • Arsenites / toxicity*
  • Hep G2 Cells / drug effects*
  • Hepatocytes
  • Humans
  • Sulfides / pharmacology*
  • Toxicity Tests
  • Urothelium / drug effects


  • Arsenates
  • Arsenites
  • Sulfides
  • arsenite
  • Arsenic
  • arsenic acid