Environmental Health Perspectives
The oxyanions of vanadium, chromium, molybdenum, arsenic, and selenium are stable forms of these elements in high oxidation states which cross cell membranes using the normal phosphate and/or sulfate transport systems of the cell. Once inside the cell, these oxyanions may sulfuryl transfer reactions. Often the oxyanions serve as alternate enzyme substrates but form ester products which are hydrolytically unstable compared with the sulfate and phosphate esters and, therefore, decompose readily in aqueous solution. Arsenite and selenite are capable of reacting with sulfhydryl groups in proteins. Some cells are able to metabolize redox active oxyanions to forms of the elements in other stable oxidation states. Specific enzymes may be involved in the metabolic processes. The metabolites of these elements may form complexes with small molecules, proteins and nucleic acids which inhibit their ability to function properly. The divalent ions of beryllium, manganese, cobalt, nickel, cadmium, mercury, and lead are stable forms of these elements which may mimic essential divalent ions such as magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, or zinc. These ions may complex small molecules, enzymes, and nucleic acids in such a way that the normal activity of these species is altered. Free radicals may be produced in the presence of these metal ions which damage critical cellular molecules.
Jennette, K Wetterhahn, "The Role of Metals in Carcinogenesis: Biochemistry and Metabolism" (1981). Open Dartmouth: Faculty Open Access Articles. 3563.