Toxic Effects

AFs are potent liver toxins, and their effects in animals vary with dose, length of exposure, species, breed, and diet or nutritional status. These toxins may be lethal when consumed in large doses; sub-lethal doses produce a chronic toxicity, and low levels of chronic exposure can result in cancer, primarily liver cancer, in many animal species. AFB1, the most potent and most commonly occurring AF, is acutely toxic to all species of animals, birds, and fishes tested. Sheep and mice are the most resistant, whereas cats, dogs, and rabbits are the most sensitive species. Chronic aflatoxicosis is characterized by bile duct proliferation, periportal fibrosis, icterus, and cirrhosis of liver. Prolonged exposure to low levels of AFB1 leads to hepatoma, cholangiocarcinoma, or hepatocellular carcinoma and other tumors. The molecular basis for the toxicology of aflatoxin has been reviewed by Wild and Turner.

Some cases of acute aflatoxicosis in humans have been reported in the literature, especially in the subpopulations of developing countries. Clinical manifestations were characterized by vomiting, abdominal pain, pulmonary edema, and fatty infiltration and necrosis of the liver. There was a putative aflatoxin poisoning in western India when there was consumption of heavily molded corn. There were at least 97 fatalities, and these deaths occurred only in households where the contaminated corn was consumed. Histopathology of liver specimens revealed extensive bile duct proliferation, a lesion often noted in experimental animals after acute AF exposure. An incident of acute aflatoxicosis in Kenya was also associated with consumption of maize highly contaminated with AF. There were 20 hospital admissions with a 20% mortality. Also, the consumption of AF-contaminated noodles resulted in acute hepatic encephalopathy in children in Malaysia. Up to 3 mg of AF was suspected to be present in a single serving of contaminated noodles.

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