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Aflatoxin exposure is inversely associated with IGF1 and IGFBP3 levels in vitro and in Kenyan schoolchildren




This study explores the relationship between aflatoxin and the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) axis and its potential effect on child growth.

Methods and results

One hundred and ninety-nine Kenyan schoolchildren were studied for aflatoxin-albumin adduct (AF-alb), IGF1 and IGF-binding protein-3 (IGFBP3) levels using ELISA. AF-alb was inversely associated with IGF1 and IGFBP3 (p < 0.05). Both IGF1 and IGFBP3 were significantly associated with child height and weight (p < 0.01). Children in the highest tertile of AF-alb exposure (>198.5 pg/mg) were shorter than children in the lowest tertile (<74.5 pg/mg), after adjusting for confounders (p = 0.043). Path analysis suggested that IGF1 levels explained ∼16% of the impact of aflatoxin exposure on child height (p = 0.052). To further investigate this putative mechanistic pathway, HHL-16 liver cells (where HHL-16 is human hepatocyte line 16 cells) were treated with aflatoxin B1 (0.5, 5 and 20 μg/mL for 24–48 h). IGF1 and IGFBP3 gene expression measured by quantitative PCR and protein in culture media showed a significant down-regulation of IGF genes and reduced IGF protein levels.


Aflatoxin treatment resulted in a significant decrease in IGF gene and protein expression in vitro. IGF protein levels were also lower in children with the highest levels of AFB-alb adducts. The data suggest that aflatoxin-induced changes in IGF protein levels could contribute to growth impairment where aflatoxin exposure is high.