Micronuclei assessment in buccal cells of people environmentally exposed to arsenic in northern Chile

V. Martínez, A. Creus, W. Venegas, A. Arroyo, J. P. Beck, T. W. Gebel, J. Surrallés, R. Marcos

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To determine the genotoxic risk associated to environmental arsenic exposure, the frequency of micronuclei in buccal cells (BCMN) of people drinking arsenic-contaminated water has been evaluated. A group of 105 individuals from the Antofagasta region (north Chile), and 102 individuals from the area of Concepción, used as reference group, were included in the study. Arsenic concentration in drinking water was high (0.75 mg/L) in the Antofagasta area, 75-fold the maximum recommended level by WHO (0.01 mg/L), while the values obtained in Concepción were significantly lower (0.002 mg/L). Individual measures of arsenic exposure were also determined in fingernails, which clearly confirm the existence of chronic exposure in the sampled populations from the Antofagasta region (10.15 μg/g versus 3.57 μg/g). The cytogenetic results indicate that, although the BCMN frequency is higher in exposed than in controls, this increase does not attain statistical significance. When the exposure biomarkers were related with the cytogenetic values, no correlations were observed between BCMN and arsenic content in water or in fingernails. In addition, the genotoxicity values do not seem to be related to the ethnic origin from people belonging to the exposed group. As a conclusion it appears that, in the studied population, the chronic ingestion of arsenic-contaminated water does not induce cytogenetic damage, measured as micronuclei, in the cells of the oral mucous in a significant extent. © 2004 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-327
JournalToxicology Letters
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2005


  • Arsenic
  • Biomonitoring
  • Buccal cells
  • Genotoxicity
  • Micronucleus test


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