Possible health impacts of naturally occurring uptake of aristolochic acids by maize and cucumber roots: links to the etiology of endemic (Balkan) nephropathy
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Aristolochic acids (AAs) are nephrotoxic and carcinogenic derivatives found in several Aristolochia species. To date, the toxicity of AAs has been inferred only from the effects observed in patients suffering from a kidney disease called “aristolochic acid nephropathy” (AAN, formerly known as “Chinese herbs nephropathy”). More recently, the chronic poisoning with Aristolochia seeds has been considered to be the main cause of Balkan endemic nephropathy, another form of chronic renal failure resembling AAN. So far, it was assumed that AAs can enter the human food chain only through ethnobotanical use (intentional or accidental) of herbs containing self-produced AAs. We hypothesized that the roots of some crops growing in fields where Aristolochia species grew over several seasons may take up certain amounts of AAs from the soil, and thus become a secondary source of food poisoning. To verify this possibility, maize plant (Zea mays) and cucumber (Cucumis sativus) were used as a model to substantiate the possible significance of naturally occurring AAs’ root uptake in food chain contamination. This study showed that the roots of maize plant and cucumber are capable of absorbing AAs from nutrient solution, consequently producing strong peaks on ultraviolet HPLC chromatograms of plant extracts. This uptake resulted in even higher concentrations of AAs in the roots compared to the nutrient solutions. To further validate the measurement of AA content in the root material, we also measured their concentrations in nutrient solutions before and after the plant treatment. Decreased concentrations of both AAI and AAII were found in nutrient solutions after plant growth. During this short-term experiment, there were much lower concentrations of AAs in the leaves than in the roots. The question is whether these plants are capable of transferring significant amounts of AAs from the roots into edible parts of the plant during prolonged experiments.
KeywordsAristolochia Aristolochic acid Balkan endemic nephropathy Roots Maize Cucumber Uptake Soil Contamination Biogeochemistry
This work was supported by the Serbian Ministry of Science (grant 143020B). All the experiments were performed on equipment provided by the Institute for Multidisciplinary Research and Serbian Ministry of Science. Part of this work was supported by grants from the US Geological Survey (Reston, VA, USA), University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Timisoara, Romania, and NATO (CLG grant # 980104).
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