Health> Vol.5 No.10A, October 2013

Aflatoxins metabolism, effects on epigenetic mechanisms and their role in carcinogenesis


Chronic consumption of aflatoxin-contaminated foods is a global problem in both developing and developed countries especially where there is poor regulation of their levels in foods. In the body, aflatoxins (AFBs) mainly AFB1 are biotransformed to various metabolites especially the active AFB1-exo-8,9-epoxide (AFBO). The AFB, AFBO and other metabolites interact with various biomolecules in the body including nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA and the various metabolic pathways such as protein synthesis, glycolytic pathway and electron transport chain involved in ATP production in body cells. The AFB interacts with DNA to form AFB-DNA adducts causing DNA breakages. The AFB and its metabolites induce the up regulation of nuclear receptors such as pregnane X receptor (PXR), constitutive androstane receptor (CAR), and aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) through gene expression that regulates the metabolizing enzymes such as CYP450 involved in Phase I and Phase II metabolism of xenobiotics. AFB activates these nuclear receptors to produce the metabolizing enzymes. The AFB1 is metabolized in the body by cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzyme isoforms such as CYP1A2, CYP1A2, CYP3A4/ CYP3A5, and CYP3A7 in fetus, glutathione S-transferase, aflatoxin B1-aldehyde reductase leading to reactive metabolites, some of which can be used as aflatoxin exposure biomarkers. These enzymes are involved in the Phase I and Phase II metabolic reactions of aflatoxins. The CYP1A2 is the principal metabolizer of aflatoxin at low concentrations while the reverse is true for CYP3A4. The accumulation of AFB and its metabolites in the body especially the AFB1-exo-8,9-epoxide depletes the glutathione (GSH) due to the formation of high amounts of epoxides and other reactive oxygen species (ROS). The AFB, AFB1-exo-8,9-epoxide and other metabolites also affect the epigenetic mechanisms including the DNA methylation, histone modifications, maturation of miRNAs as well as the daily formation of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) where AFB exposure may facilitate the process and induces G:C to T:A transversions at the third base in codon 249 of TP53 causing p53 mutations reported in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The changes in epigenetic mechanisms lead to either epigenetic inactivation or epigenetic derepression and all these affect the gene expression, cellular differentiation and growth. AFB also through epigenetic mechanisms promotes tumorigenesis, angiogenesis, invasion and metastasis in hepatocellular carcinoma. However, the formation of the small amounts of AFB1 from AFB2 is suspected to cause the carcinogenicity of AFB2 in humans and animals. Chronic aflatoxins exposure leads to formation of reactive AFBO metabolites in the body that could activate and de-activates the various epigenetic mechanisms leading to development of various cancers.


Cite this paper

Bbosa, G. , Kitya, D. , Odda, J. and Ogwal-Okeng, J. (2013) Aflatoxins metabolism, effects on epigenetic mechanisms and their role in carcinogenesis. Health, 5, 14-34. doi: 10.4236/health.2013.510A1003.


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