A patient with severe arsenic poisoning that resulted in marked peripheral blood and bone marrow abnormalities, including megaloblastic erythropoiesis experienced many of the previously reported hematologic complications of arsenic poisoning: leukopenia, granulocytopenia, absolute eosinophilia, and profound anemia. In this study we report an ultrastructural and electron-probe analysis of the bone marrow. Although megaloblastic anemia associated with arsenic poisoning has been described rarely, the presence of arsenic in the local bone marrow milieu has not been demonstrated previously. The ultrastructural features of arsenic-induced bone marrow toxicity are similar to those described in other dyserythropoietic states and include marked nuclear aberrations involving shape, chromatin distribution, and nuclear envelope. Using the technique of energy-dispersive x-ray analysis (electron probe) we demonstrated arsenic in bone marrow spicules; this supports the contention that arsenic can cause megaloblastic anemia. We suggest that this technique may be a useful tool in further studies that attempt to explore the mechanism of arsenic-induced hematologic toxicity. Finally, we suggest that arsenic has a direct toxic effect on DNA synthesis that results in marked disturbances of nuclear division. We recommend that the most appropriate screening procedure to evaluate possible arsenic poisoning is tissue arsenic measurements (hair and nails) rather than 24-hr urinary measurements.

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