Toxic effects of griseofulvin: Disease models, mechanisms, and risk assessment

Siegfried Knasmüller, Wolfram Parzefall, Christoph Helma, Fekadu Kassie, Sonja Ecker, Rolf Schulte-Hermann

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65 Scopus citations


Griseofulvin (GF) has been in use for more than 30 years as a pharmaceutical drug in humans for the treatment of dermatomycoses. Animal studies give clear evidence that it causes a variety of acute and chronic toxic effects, including liver and thyroid cancer in rodents, abnormal germ cell maturation, teratogenicity, and embroyotoxicity in various species. No sufficient data from human studies are available at present to exclude a risk in humans; therefore, attempts were made to elucidate the mechanisms responsible for the toxic effects of GF and to address the question whether such effects might occur in humans undergoing GF therapy. It is well documented that GF acts as a spindle poison and its reproductive toxicity as well as the induction of numerical chromosome aberrations and of micronuclei in somatic cells possibly may result from disturbance of microtubuli formation. Likewise, a causal relationship between aneuploidy and cancer has been repeatedly postulated. However, a critical survey of the data available on aneuploidogenic chemicals revealed insufficient evidence for such an association. Conceivably, other mechanisms may be responsible for the carcinogenic effects of the drug. The induction of thyroid tumors in rats by GF is apparently a consequence of the decrease of thyroxin levels and it is unlikely that such effects occur in GF-exposed humans. The appearance of hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC) in mice on GF-supplemented diet is preceded by various biochemical and morphological changes in the liver. Among these, hepatic porphyria is prominent, it may result from inhibition of ferrochelatase and (compensatory) induction of ALA synthetase. GF-induced accumulation of porphyrins in mouse liver is followed by cell damage and necrotic and inflammatory processes. Similar changes are known from certain human porphyrias which are also associated with an increased risk for HCC. However, the porphyrogenic effect of GF therapy in humans is moderate compared with that in the mouse model, although more detailed studies should be performed in order to clarify this relationship on a quantitative basis. A further important effect of GF-feeding in mice is the formation of Mallory bodies (MBs) in hepatocytes. These cytoskeletal abnormalities occur also in humans, although under different conditions; their appearance is associated with the induction of liver disease and HCC. Chronic liver damage associated with porphyria and MB formation, enhanced cell proliferation, liver enlargement, and enzyme induction all may contribute to the hepatocarcinogenic effect of GF in mice. In conclusion, further investigation is required for adequate assessment of health risks to humans under GF therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)495-537
Number of pages43
JournalCritical Reviews in Toxicology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1997

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Aneuploidy
  • Carcinogenicity
  • Cytochrome P-450
  • Genotoxicity
  • Griseofulvin
  • Liver
  • Mallory bodies
  • P-glycoprotein
  • Porphyria
  • Teratogenicity


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