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Toxicology. 2002 Oct 30;180(1):5-22.
Cytotoxicity and oxidative mechanisms of different forms of chromium.
Bagchi D1, Stohs SJ, Downs BW, Bagchi M, Preuss HG.


Chromium exists mostly in two valence states in nature: hexavalent chromium [chromium(VI)] and trivalent chromium [chromium(III)]. Chromium(VI) is commonly used in industrial chrome plating, welding, painting, metal finishes, steel manufacturing, alloy, cast iron and wood treatment, and is a proven toxin, mutagen and carcinogen. The mechanistic cytotoxicity of chromium(VI) is not completely understood, however, a large number of studies demonstrated that chromium(VI) induces oxidative stress, DNA damage, apoptotic cell death and altered gene expression. Conversely, chromium(III) is essential for proper insulin function and is required for normal protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and is acknowledged as a dietary supplement. In this paper, comparative concentration- and time-dependent effects of chromium(VI) and chromium(III) were demonstrated on increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and lipid peroxidation, enhanced excretion of urinary lipid metabolites, DNA fragmentation and apoptotic cell death in both in vitro and in vivo models. Chromium(VI) demonstrated significantly higher toxicity as compared with chromium(III). To evaluate the role of p53 gene, the dose-dependent effects of chromium(VI) were assessed in female C57BL/6Ntac and p53-deficient C57BL/6TSG p53 mice on enhanced production of ROS, lipid peroxidation and DNA fragmentation in hepatic and brain tissues. Chromium(VI) induced more pronounced oxidative damage in multiple target organs in p53 deficient mice. Comparative studies of chromium(III) picolinate and niacin-bound chromium(III), two popular dietary supplements, reveal that chromium(III) picolinate produces significantly more oxidative stress and DNA damage. Studies have implicated the toxicity of chromium picolinate in renal impairment, skin blisters and pustules, anemia, hemolysis, tissue edema, liver dysfunction; neuronal cell injury, impaired cognitive, perceptual and motor activity; enhanced production of hydroxyl radicals, chromosomal aberration, depletion of antioxidant enzymes, and DNA damage. Recently, chromium picolinate has been shown to be mutagenic and picolinic acid moiety appears to be responsible as studies show that picolinic acid alone is clastogenic. Niacin-bound chromium(III) has been demonstrated to be more bioavailable and efficacious and no toxicity has been reported. In summary, these studies demonstrate that a cascade of cellular events including oxidative stress, genomic DNA damage and modulation of apoptotic regulatory gene p53 are involved in chromium(VI)-induced toxicity and carcinogenesis. The safety of chromium(III) is largely dependent on the ligand, and adequate clinical studies are warranted to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of chromium(III) for human consumption.


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