Aflatoxin exposure and viral hepatitis in the etiology of liver cirrhosis in The Gambia, West Africa

Mark H. Kuniholm, Olufunmilayo A. Lesi, Maimuna Mendy, Aliu O. Akano, Omar Sam, Andrew J. Hall, Hilton Whittle, Ebrima Bah, James J. Goedert, Pierre Hainaut, Gregory D. Kirk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Background: Cirrhosis of the liver is thought to be a major cause of morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, but few controlled studies on the etiology of cirrhosis have been conducted in this region. Objectives: We aimed to elucidate the association between environmental and infectious exposures and cirrhosis in The Gambia. Methods: Ninety-seven individuals were diagnosed with cirrhosis using a validated ultrasound scoring system and were compared with 397 controls. Participants reported demographic and food frequency information. Blood samples were tested for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg), hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibody, HCV RNA, and the aflatoxin-associated 249ser TP53 mutation. Results: HBsAg seropositivity was associated with a significant increase in risk of cirrhosis [odds ratio (OR) = 8.0; 95% confidence interval (CI), 4.4-14.7] as was the presence of HBeAg (OR = 10.3; 95% CI, 2.0-53.9) and HCV infection (OR = 3.3; 95% CI, 1.2-9.5). We present novel data that exposure to aflatoxin, as assessed both by high lifetime groundnut (peanut) intake and by the presence of the 249ser TP53 mutation in plasma, is associated with a significant increase in the risk for cirrhosis (OR = 2.8; 95% CI, 1.1-7.7 and OR = 3.8; 95% CI, 1.5-9.6, respectively). Additionally, aflatoxin and hepatitis B virus exposure appeared to interact synergistically to substantially increase the risk of cirrhosis, although this was not statistically significant. Conclusion: Our results suggest that the spectrum of morbidity associated with aflatoxin exposure could include cirrhosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1553-1557
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Aflatoxin
  • Africa
  • Hepatitis B virus
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • P53
  • The Gambia
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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