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Family correlations of arsenic methylation patterns in children and parents exposed to high concentrations of arsenic in drinking water.


We investigated the evidence of a familial contribution to urinary methylation patterns in families ingesting arsenic in drinking water. Arsenic methylation can be assessed by measuring urinary levels of inorganic arsenic (InAs) and its methylated metabolites, monomethylarsonate (MMA), and dimethylarsinate (DMA). Methylation activity is reflected in the ratios: InAs/methylated arsenic (InAs/metAs) and MMA/DMA. Eleven families from Chile were selected because of their long-term exposure to very high levels of arsenic in drinking water (735-762 microg/L). Each family consisted of a father, a mother, and two children. We measured urinary arsenic and its methylated metabolites for each participant (n = 44). The intraclass correlation coefficients showed that 13-52% of the variations in the methylation patterns were from being a member of a specific family. Family correlations were calculated for father-mother, parent-child, and sibling-sibling pairs. Methylation patterns correlated strongly between siblings [r = 0.78 for InAs/metAs, 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.34-0.94; r = 0.82 for MMA/DMA, 95%CI, 0.43-0.95] compared to lower correlations in father-mother pairs (r = 0.18, r = -0.01, respectively), after adjustment for total urinary arsenic, age, and sex. Family correlations were not notably altered when adjustments were made for specific blood micronutrients (methionine, homocysteine, folate, vitamin B6, selenium, and vitamin B12 potentially related to methylation. We also report on a family pedigree with high prevalence of arsenic-induced effects. Participants from this family had low InAs/metAs values, which is consistent with increased toxicity of trivalent methylated arsenic species. Despite our small sample size, we observed that methylation patterns aggregate in families and are correlated in siblings, providing evidence of a genetic basis for the variation in arsenic methylation. Larger studies with more extensive pedigrees will need to be conducted to confirm these findings.

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