Archives of Toxicology

, Volume 90, Issue 6, pp 1281–1292 | Cite as

Biomonitoring of the mycotoxin Zearalenone: current state-of-the art and application to human exposure assessment

  • Angela MallyEmail author
  • Michele Solfrizzo
  • Gisela H. Degen
Review Article


Zearalenone (ZEN), a mycotoxin with high estrogenic activity in vitro and in vivo, is a widespread food contaminant that is commonly detected in maize, wheat, barley, sorghum, rye and other grains. Human exposure estimates based on analytical data on ZEN occurrence in various food categories and food consumption data suggest that human exposure to ZEN and modified forms of ZEN may be close to or even exceed the tolerable daily intake (TDI) derived by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for some consumer groups. Considering the inherent uncertainties in estimating dietary intake of ZEN that may lead to an under- or overestimation of ZEN exposure and consequently human risk and current lack of data on vulnerable consumer groups, there is a clear need for more comprehensive and reliable exposure data to refine ZEN risk assessment. Human biomonitoring (HBM) is increasingly being recognized as an efficient and cost-effective way of assessing human exposure to food contaminants, including mycotoxins. Based on animal and (limited) human data on the toxicokinetics of ZEN, it appears that excretion of ZEN and its major metabolites may present suitable biomarkers of ZEN exposure. In view of the limitations of available dietary exposure data on ZEN and its modified forms, the purpose of this review is to provide an overview of recent studies utilizing HBM to monitor and assess human exposure to ZEN. Considerations are given to animal and human toxicokinetic data relevant to HBM, analytical methods, and available HBM data on urinary biomarkers of ZEN exposure in different cohorts.


Human biomonitoring Mycotoxin Zearalenone Biomarker of exposure 



Aflatoxin B1




Fumonisin B1


Human biomonitoring


Limit of detection


Limit of quantitation


Ochratoxin A


Probable daily intake


Tolerable daily intake







The authors would like to thank Lucia Gambacorta for analyses with indirect method as well as Nicole Lorenz and all members of the Mycotoxin Panel of the Committee of Contaminants and other Undesirable Substances in the Food Chain of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) for constructive discussions.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Angela Mally
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michele Solfrizzo
    • 2
  • Gisela H. Degen
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of ToxicologyUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Sciences of Food Production (ISPA), National Research Council (CNR)BariItaly
  3. 3.Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors (IfADo)DortmundGermany

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