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Presentation with a firm type of chronic hepatomegaly of multifactorial etiology is common among school-age children in sub-Saharan Africa. Aflatoxin is a liver toxin and carcinogen contaminating staple maize food. In this study we examined its role in chronic hepatomegaly. Plasma samples collected in 2002 and again in 2004 from 218 children attending two schools in neighboring villages were assayed for aflatoxin exposure using the aflatoxin-albumin adduct (AF-alb) biomarker. Data were previously examined for associations among hepatomegaly, malaria, and schistosomiasis. AF-alb levels were high in children from both schools, but the geometric mean (95% confidence interval) in year 2002 was significantly higher in Matangini [206.5 (175.5, 243.0) pg/mg albumin] than in Yumbuni [73.2 (61.6, 87.0) pg/mg; p < 0.001]. AF-alb levels also were higher in children with firm hepatomegaly [176.6 (129.6, 240.7) pg/mg] than in normal children [79.9 (49.6, 128.7) pg/mg; p = 0.029]. After adjusting for Schistosoma mansoni and Plasmodium infection, we estimated a significant 43% increase in the prevalence of hepatomegaly/hepatosplenomegaly for every natural-log-unit increase in AF-alb. In 2004, AF-alb levels were markedly higher than in 2002 [539.7 (463.3, 628.7) vs. 114.5 (99.7, 131.4) pg/mg; p < 0.001] but with no significant difference between the villages or between hepatomegaly and normal groups [539.7 (436.7, 666.9) vs. 512.6 (297.3, 883.8) pg/mg], possibly because acute exposures during an aflatoxicosis outbreak in 2004 may have masked any potential underlying relationship. Exposure to aflatoxin was associated with childhood chronic hepatomegaly in 2002. These preliminary data suggest an additional health risk that may be related to aflatoxin exposure in children, a hypothesis that merits further testing.

Citation

Yun Yun Gong, Shona Wilson, Joseph K Mwatha, Michael N Routledge, Jovita M Castelino, Bin Zhao, Gachuhi Kimani, H Curtis Kariuki, Birgitte J Vennervald, David W Dunne, Christopher P Wild. Aflatoxin exposure may contribute to chronic hepatomegaly in Kenyan school children. Environmental health perspectives. 2012 Jun;120(6):893-6

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PMID: 22370114

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