Preprint Review Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Aflatoxins: A Comprehensive Overview

Version 1 : Received: 26 November 2019 / Approved: 28 November 2019 / Online: 28 November 2019 (03:37:24 CET)
Version 2 : Received: 23 December 2019 / Approved: 24 December 2019 / Online: 24 December 2019 (09:32:38 CET)
Version 3 : Received: 4 January 2020 / Approved: 5 January 2020 / Online: 5 January 2020 (16:44:52 CET)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Benkerroum, N. Chronic and Acute Toxicities of Aflatoxins: Mechanisms of Action. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 423. Benkerroum, N. Chronic and Acute Toxicities of Aflatoxins: Mechanisms of Action. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 423.


Aflatoxins continue to raise health concerns as unavoidable and widespread natural contaminants of foods and feeds with serious impact on health, agricultural and livestock productivity, and food safety. They are secondary metabolites produced by Aspergillus species distributed on three main sections of the genus (section Flavi, section Ochraceorosei, and section Nidulantes). Aflatoxin-producing species, mainly A. flavus and A. parasiticus thrive under hot and humid conditions in the field or during storage, which are met in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Poor economic status of a country exacerbates the risk and the extent of crop contamination due to faulty storage conditions that are usually suitable for mold growth and mycotoxin production; temperature of 22 to 29°C and water activity of 0.90 to 0.99. This situation paralleled the prevalence of high liver cancer and the occasional acute aflatoxicosis episodes that have been associated with these regions. Few of the presently known aflatoxins (>18) have been sufficiently studied for their incidence, health-risk, and mechanisms of toxicity to allow effective intervention and control means that would significantly and sustainably reduce their incidence and adverse effects on health and economy. Among these, aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) has by far been the most studied; and yet, many aspects of the range and mechanisms of the diseases it causes remain to be elucidated. Its mutagenicity, tumorigenicity, and carcinogenicity, which are the best known still suffer from many limitations regarding the relative contribution of the oxidative stress and the reactive epoxide derivative (Aflatoxin-exo 8,9-epoxide) in the induction of the diseases, as well as its metabolic and synthesis pathways. Additionally, despite the well-established additive effects for carcinogenicity between AFB1 and other risk factors, e.g., hepatitis viruses B and C, and the algal hepatotoxic microcystins, the mechanisms of this synergy remain unclear. A review of publications on the incidence and concentrations of aflatoxins in selected foods and feeds from countries whose crops are classically known for their highest contamination with aflatoxins, reveals that despite the intensive efforts made to reduce such an incidence, there has been no clear tendency, with the possible exception of South Africa, towards sustained improvements. The levels and incidence are essentially influenced by the rainfall and temperature during the cultivation year or two successive years with alternating dry and wet seasons. This review aimed to update the main aspects of aflatoxin production, occurrence and incidence in selected countries, and associated adverse health effects. In addition to AFB1 which was the main focus of the review, other aflatoxins were addressed whenever relevant data were available.


aflatoxins; incidence; Sub-Saharan Africa; Southeast Asia; tumorigenicity; carcinogenicity; acute toxicity; immunogenicity; genotoxicity


Biology and Life Sciences, Immunology and Microbiology

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