Gastrointestinal Absorption of Metals
AbstractABSTRACT Estimating gastrointestinal absorption remains a significant challenge in the risk assessment of metals. This presentation reviews our current understanding of the gastrointestinal absorption of lead (Pb) to illustrate physiological mechanisms involved in metal absorption, new approaches that are being applied to the problem of estimating metal absorption in humans, and issues related to integrating this information into risk assessment. Absorption of metals can be highly variable in human populations because it is influenced by a variety of factors that include the chemical form of the metal, environmental matrix in which the ingested metal is contained, gastrointestinal tract contents, diet, nutritional status, age, and, in some cases, genotype. Thus, in risk assessment models, gastrointestinal absorption is best described as a variable whose distribution is determined in part by the above multiple influences. Although we cannot expect to evaluate empirically each of the above factors in human populations, we can expect to achieve a sufficiently detailed understanding of absorption mechanisms to develop conceptual and, eventually, quantitative models of absorption that account for some aspects of individual variability. A conceptual model is presented of the physiological processes involved in the transfer of ingested metals from the lumen of the gastrointestinal tract to the blood circulation. Components of the model include delivery of the metal to the site(s) of absorption; distribution of metal among intracellular and extracellular ligands and transcellular and paracellular pathways of transfer across the gastrointestinal tract epithelium. The gastrointestinal absorption of Pb is discussed in the context of this model.