Carcinogenic Chromium(VI) Compounds Formed by Intracellular Oxidation of Chromium(III) Dietary Supplements by Adipocytes

Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2016 Jan 26;55(5):1742-5. doi: 10.1002/anie.201509065. Epub 2015 Dec 22.


Chromium(III) nutritional supplements are widely consumed for their purported antidiabetic activities. X-ray fluorescence microscopy (XFM) and X-ray absorption near-edge structure (XANES) studies have now shown that non-toxic doses of [Cr3 O(OCOEt)6 (OH2 )3 ](+) (A), a prospective antidiabetic drug that undergoes similar H2 O2 induced oxidation reactions in the blood as other Cr supplements, was also oxidized to carcinogenic Cr(VI) and Cr(V) in living cells. Single adipocytes treated with A had approximately 1 μm large Cr hotspots containing Cr(III) , Cr(V) , and Cr(VI) (primarily Cr(VI) thiolates) species. These results strongly support the hypothesis that the antidiabetic activity of Cr(III) and the carcinogenicity of Cr(VI) compounds arise from similar mechanisms involving highly reactive Cr(VI) and Cr(V) intermediates, and highlight concerns over the safety of Cr(III) nutritional supplements.

Keywords: X-ray fluorescence microscopy; adipocytes; cancer; chromium; oxidation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / metabolism*
  • Carcinogens / chemical synthesis*
  • Carcinogens / chemistry
  • Chromium / metabolism*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Carcinogens
  • Chromium