JOURNAL ARTICLE
RESEARCH SUPPORT, U.S. GOV'T, P.H.S.
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The role of chelation in the treatment of arsenic and mercury poisoning.

Chelation for heavy metal intoxication began more than 70 years ago with the development of British anti-lewisite (BAL; dimercaprol) in wartime Britain as a potential antidote the arsenical warfare agent lewisite (dichloro[2-chlorovinyl]arsine). DMPS (unithiol) and DMSA (succimer), dithiol water-soluble analogs of BAL, were developed in the Soviet Union and China in the late 1950s. These three agents have remained the mainstay of chelation treatment of arsenic and mercury intoxication for more than half a century. Animal experiments and in some instances human data indicate that the dithiol chelators enhance arsenic and mercury excretion. Controlled animal experiments support a therapeutic role for these chelators in the prompt treatment of acute poisoning by arsenic and inorganic mercury salts. Treatment should be initiated as rapidly as possible (within minutes to a few hours), as efficacy declines or disappears as the time interval between metal exposure and onset of chelation increases. DMPS and DMSA, which have a higher therapeutic index than BAL and do not redistribute arsenic or mercury to the brain, offer advantages in clinical practice. Although chelation following chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic and inorganic mercury may accelerate metal excretion and diminish metal burden in some organs, potential therapeutic efficacy in terms of decreased morbidity and mortality is largely unestablished in cases of chronic metal intoxication.

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