Study of the accumulation and distribution of arsenic species and association with arsenic toxicity in rats after 30 days of oral realgar administration

J Ethnopharmacol. 2020 Jan 30;247:111576. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2018.10.037. Epub 2018 Oct 29.


Aim of the study: Because the toxicity and efficacy of arsenic is closely related to its chemical species, we conducted examinations of arsenic species accumulation and distribution in the rat body after one-time and 30-day realgar administration and then elucidated the probable roles of different arsenic species in the short-term toxicity of realgar.

Materials and methods: According to ICH M3 guidelines for non-clinical repeated dose toxicity studies and OECD Test guideline TG407 "Repeated Dose 28-Day oral Toxicity Study in Rodents, the doses of realgar set were 10.6 mg/kg, 40.5 mg/kg and 170 mg/kg. Rats were orally administered with realgar for one-tme and 30 days, respectively. Thereafter, biological samples (plasma, urine, liver, kidney, and brain) were obtained from rats and analyzed using high-performance liquid chromatography-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (HPLC-ICP-MS) to determine realgar metabolism, arsenic species accumulation and distribution. Additionally, the toxicity of realgar in rats was evaluated.

Results: The absorption, distribution and elimination half-life of total arsenic species in realgar were 3.33 hs, 16.08 hs and 24.65 hs, respectively. After 30 days of oral administration of realgar in rats, no significant drug-related toxicity occurred in the rats. Dimethylarsenic acid (DMA) is the most abundant arsenic species. The DMA contents of the liver and kidney of the high-dose realgar group were approximately 40-fold and 50-fold higher than those in the corresponding tissues of the control group, respectively. The arsenic species (III) was mainly detected in the liver and its content was about 40-fold higher than that of the control group. MMA was mainly detected in rat kidney, and the MMA content of the realgar treatment group was more than 2000 times higher than that of the control group.

Conclusions: Arsenic is rapidly absorbed and distributed over the liver, kidneys and brain, and the distribution and elimination of arsenic in the blood is slow. The realgar doses corresponded to human equivalent doses (HED) of 1.7, 6.4 and 27.2 mg/kg, respectively. Considering that humans are 10 times more sensitive than animals, the realgar dose is equivalent to 0.17, 0.64 and 2.7 mg/kg HED. It can be considered that if patients take no more than 2.7 mg/kg realgar for 2 weeks, there will be no adverse reactions.

Keywords: Accumulation; Arsenic species; Distribution; Realgar; Toxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Arsenicals / administration & dosage
  • Arsenicals / pharmacokinetics*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / administration & dosage
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / pharmacokinetics
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / toxicity
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Absorption
  • Half-Life
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Rats
  • Sulfides / administration & dosage
  • Sulfides / pharmacokinetics*
  • Sulfides / toxicity
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Toxicity Tests, Acute


  • Arsenicals
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • Sulfides
  • arsenic disulfide