Biomonitoring of humans exposed to arsenic, chromium, nickel, vanadium, and complex mixtures of metals by using the micronucleus test in lymphocytes

Mutat Res Rev Mutat Res. 2016 Oct-Dec;770(Pt A):140-161. doi: 10.1016/j.mrrev.2016.03.003. Epub 2016 Mar 6.


Various metals have demonstrated genotoxic and carcinogenic potential via different mechanisms. Until now, biomonitoring and epidemiological studies have been carried out to assess the genotoxic risk to exposed human populations. In this sense, the use of the micronucleus assay in peripheral blood lymphocytes has proven to be a useful tool to determine increased levels of DNA damage, as a surrogate biomarker of cancer risk. Here we review those biomonitoring studies focused on people exposed to arsenic, chromium, nickel, vanadium and complex mixtures of metals. Only those studies that used the frequency of micronuclei in binucleated (BNMN) cells have been taken into consideration, although the inclusion of other biomarkers of exposure and genotoxicity are also reflected and discussed. Regarding arsenic, most of the occupational and environmental biomonitoring studies find an increase in BNMN among the exposed individuals. Thus, it seems conclusive that arsenic exposure increases the risk of exposed human populations. However, a lack of correlation between the level of exposure and the increase in BNMN is also common, and a limited number of studies evaluated the genotype as a risk modulator. As for chromium, a BNMN increase in occupationally exposed subjects and a correlation between level of exposure and effect is found consistently in the available literature. However, the quality score of the studies is only medium-low. On the other hand, the studies evaluating nickel and vanadium are scarce and lacks a correct characterization of the individual exposure, which difficult the building of clear conclusions. Finally, several studies with medium-high quality scores evaluated a more realistic scenario of exposure which takes into account a mixture of metals. Among them, those which correctly characterized and measured the exposure were able to find association with the level of BNMN. Also, several genes associated with DNA damage repair such as OGG1 and XRCC1 were found to influence the exposure effect.

Keywords: Biomonitoring; Metals; Micronucleus; Peripheral blood lymphocytes.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • Lymphocytes / ultrastructure
  • Metals / toxicity*
  • Micronucleus Tests / methods*


  • Metals