Studies in animals and humans have established serum aflatoxin-albumin adducts as biomarkers of exposure to aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), a food-borne hepatocarcinogen. To assess the utility of measurements of aflatoxin-albumin adducts to predict risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), 123 male F344 rats were dosed with 20 microg of AFB1 daily for 5 weeks after randomization into three groups: no intervention; delayed-transient (500 ppm of oltipraz, weeks 2 and 3 relative to AFB1); or persistent (500 ppm oltipraz, weeks -1 to 5). Serial blood samples were collected from each animal at weekly intervals throughout aflatoxin B1 exposure and assayed for levels of aflatoxin-albumin by radioimmune assay. Area under the curve (AUC) values for aflatoxin-albumin adducts decreased 20 and 39% in the delayed-transient and persistent oltipraz intervention groups, respectively, as compared to no intervention. Similarly, the total incidence of HCC dropped from 83 to 60% (P = 0.03) and 48% (P < 0.01) in these groups. Tumor multiplicity was also reduced in the two oltipraz intervention groups, whereas time to HCC was increased. Mononuclear cell leukemia, a common neoplasm in F344 rats, was seen in 39% of the control animals, whereas the two oltipraz interventions reduced incidence to 18% (P = 0.05) and 13% (P = 0.01), respectively. Overall, a significant association was seen between biomarker AUC and risk of HCC (P = 0.01). However, when the predictive value of aflatoxin-albumin adducts was assessed within treatment groups, there was no association between AUC and risk of HCC (P = 0.56). Thus, aflatoxin-albumin adducts can be useful for monitoring population-based changes induced by interventions, such as in chemoprevention trials, but have limited utility in identifying individuals destined to develop HCC. As a consequence, the use of this biomarker in quantitative risk assessment should be pursued cautiously.

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