Human health implications from co-exposure to aflatoxins and fumonisins in maize-based foods in Latin America: Guatemala as a case study

O. Torres, J. Matute, J. Gelineau-Van Waes, J. R. Maddox, S. G. Gregory, A. E. Ashley-Koch, J. L. Showker, K. A. Voss, R. T. Riley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Co-occurrence of fumonisin B1 (FB1) and aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) in maize has been demonstrated in many surveys. Combined-exposure to FB1 and AFB1 was of concern to the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives because of the known genotoxicity of AFB1 and the ability of FB1 to induce regenerative proliferation in target tissues. Humans living where maize is a dietary staple are at high risk for exposure to both mycotoxins. Our work has focused on Guatemala, a country in Central America where maize is consumed in large amounts every day and where intake of FB1 has been shown to be potentially quite high using biomarker-based studies. In 2012 a survey was conducted which analysed maize samples for FB1 and AFB1 from all 22 departments of Guatemala. The results show that the levels of AFB1 exposure are also potentially quite high in Guatemala, and likely throughout Central America and Mexico. The implications of co-exposure for human health are numerous, but one area of particular concern is the potential of FB1 to modulate AFB1 hepatoxicity and/or hepatocarcinogenicity. Both the mechanism of action of FB1 and its ability to promote liver carcinogenicity in rats and rainbow trout is consistent with this concern. In farm and laboratory animals FB1 inhibits ceramide synthases, key enzymes in de novo ceramide biosynthesis. The inhibition of sphingolipid signalling pathways mediating programmed cell death and activation of pathways stimulating cell proliferation in livers of individuals exposed to AFB1 could contribute to the tumorigenicity of AFB1. Studies investigating the health effects of either toxin should consider the potential for co-exposure to both toxins. Also, in countries where maize-based food are prepared by alkaline treatment of the maize kernels, the effect of traditional processing on AFB1 levels and toxicity needs to be determined, especially for maize highly contaminated with AFB1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-159
Number of pages17
JournalWorld Mycotoxin Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Toxicology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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