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      Toxic Mechanisms of Five Heavy Metals: Mercury, Lead, Chromium, Cadmium, and Arsenic


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          The industrial activities of the last century have caused massive increases in human exposure to heavy metals. Mercury, lead, chromium, cadmium, and arsenic have been the most common heavy metals that induced human poisonings. Here, we reviewed the mechanistic action of these heavy metals according to the available animal and human studies. Acute or chronic poisonings may occur following exposure through water, air, and food. Bioaccumulation of these heavy metals leads to a diversity of toxic effects on a variety of body tissues and organs. Heavy metals disrupt cellular events including growth, proliferation, differentiation, damage-repairing processes, and apoptosis. Comparison of the mechanisms of action reveals similar pathways for these metals to induce toxicity including ROS generation, weakening of the antioxidant defense, enzyme inactivation, and oxidative stress. On the other hand, some of them have selective binding to specific macromolecules. The interaction of lead with aminolevulinic acid dehydratase and ferrochelatase is within this context. Reactions of other heavy metals with certain proteins were discussed as well. Some toxic metals including chromium, cadmium, and arsenic cause genomic instability. Defects in DNA repair following the induction of oxidative stress and DNA damage by the three metals have been considered as the cause of their carcinogenicity. Even with the current knowledge of hazards of heavy metals, the incidence of poisoning remains considerable and requires preventive and effective treatment. The application of chelation therapy for the management of metal poisoning could be another aspect of heavy metals to be reviewed in the future.

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          Heavy metal toxicity and the environment.

          Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that have a high atomic weight and a density at least five times greater than that of water. Their multiple industrial, domestic, agricultural, medical, and technological applications have led to their wide distribution in the environment, raising concerns over their potential effects on human health and the environment. Their toxicity depends on several factors including the dose, route of exposure, and chemical species, as well as the age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of exposed individuals. Because of their high degree of toxicity, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury rank among the priority metals that are of public health significance. These metallic elements are considered systemic toxicants that are known to induce multiple organ damage, even at lower levels of exposure. They are also classified as human carcinogens (known or probable) according to the US Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. This review provides an analysis of their environmental occurrence, production and use, potential for human exposure, and molecular mechanisms of toxicity, genotoxicity, and carcinogenicity.
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            Metals, Toxicity and Oxidative Stress

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              Role of Reactive Oxygen Species in Cancer Progression: Molecular Mechanisms and Recent Advancements

              Reactive oxygen species (ROS) play a pivotal role in biological processes and continuous ROS production in normal cells is controlled by the appropriate regulation between the silver lining of low and high ROS concentration mediated effects. Interestingly, ROS also dynamically influences the tumor microenvironment and is known to initiate cancer angiogenesis, metastasis, and survival at different concentrations. At moderate concentration, ROS activates the cancer cell survival signaling cascade involving mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases 1/2 (MAPK/ERK1/2), p38, c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), and phosphoinositide-3-kinase/ protein kinase B (PI3K/Akt), which in turn activate the nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB), matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). At high concentrations, ROS can cause cancer cell apoptosis. Hence, it critically depends upon the ROS levels, to either augment tumorigenesis or lead to apoptosis. The major issue is targeting the dual actions of ROS effectively with respect to the concentration bias, which needs to be monitored carefully to impede tumor angiogenesis and metastasis for ROS to serve as potential therapeutic targets exogenously/endogenously. Overall, additional research is required to comprehend the potential of ROS as an effective anti-tumor modality and therapeutic target for treating malignancies.

                Author and article information

                Front Pharmacol
                Front Pharmacol
                Front. Pharmacol.
                Frontiers in Pharmacology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                13 April 2021
                : 12
                : 643972
                [ 1 ]Medical Toxicology and Drug Abuse Research Center, Birjand University of Medical Sciences, Birjand, Iran
                [ 2 ]Cardiovascular Disease Research Center, Birjand University of Medical Sciences, Birjand, Iran
                Author notes

                Edited by: Fatma Mohamady El-Demerdash, Alexandria University, Egypt

                Reviewed by: Tanmoy Rana, West Bengal University of Animal and Fishery Sciences, India

                Zunzhen Zhang, Sichuan University, China

                Dr. Kanwal Rehman, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan

                This article was submitted to Predictive Toxicology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology

                Copyright © 2021 Balali-Mood, Naseri, Tahergorabi, Khazdair and Sadeghi.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                : 19 December 2020
                : 26 January 2021

                Pharmacology & Pharmaceutical medicine
                heavy metals,mechanistic action,acute poisoning,chronic poisoning,ros,oxidative stress


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