Role of arsenic as a reproductive toxin with particular attention to neural tube defects

J Toxicol Environ Health. 1996 Jun 28;48(3):253-72. doi: 10.1080/009841096161320.


Arsenic has been recognized as a human toxicant for over 2000 years. More recently it has been readily accepted as a human carcinogen. Animal research has demonstrated arsenic's ability to have profound detrimental effects on the developing embryo in avian and mammalian species. This article comprehensively reviews the human and animal literature on the subject of the reproductive toxicity of arsenic. A variety of endpoints are considered, including spontaneous abortion, cardiovascular defects, and arsenic's role in the causation of neural tube defects (NTDs). A summary of the literature that has examined the various postulated mechanisms by which arsenic may produce NTDs is also considered. In addition, a discussion of literature relative to the presence of arsenic in the general environment and in the workplace is presented. This article reaches the conclusion that while further research is clearly needed, particularly on the potential toxicity of organic arsenical compounds, the current literature suggests it may be prudent and appropriate to treat inorganic arsenic as a probable human reproductive toxin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Humans
  • Neural Tube Defects / chemically induced*
  • Neural Tube Defects / epidemiology
  • Neural Tube Defects / etiology
  • Neural Tube Defects / genetics
  • Poisons / toxicity*
  • Reproduction / drug effects*
  • Teratogens / toxicity


  • Poisons
  • Teratogens
  • Arsenic