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Humans are exposed to arsenic and their organic derivatives, which are widely distributed in the environment, via food, water, and to a lesser extent, via air. Following uptake, inorganic arsenic undergoes biotransformation to mono- and dimethylated metabolites. Recent findings suggest that the methylation reactions represent a toxification rather than a detoxification pathway.In the present study, the genotoxic effects and the cellular uptake of inorganic arsenic [arsenate, Asi(V); arsenite, Asi(III)] and the methylated arsenic species monomethylarsonic acid [[MMA(V)], monomethylarsonous acid [MMA(III)], dimethylarsinic acid [DMA(V)], dimethylarsinous acid [DMA(III)], trimethylarsenic oxide [TMAO(V)] were investigated in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO-9) cells. The chemicals were applied at different concentrations (0.1 μM to 10 mM) for 30 min and 1 h, respectively. Cytotoxic effects were investigated by the trypan blue extrusion test and genotoxic effects by the assessment of micronucleus (MN) induction, chromosome aberrations (CA), and sister chromatid exchanges (SCE). Intracellular arsenic concentrations were determined by ICP-MS techniques. Our results show that MMA(III) and DMA(III) induce cytotoxic and genotoxic effects to a greater extent than MMA(V) or DMA(V). Viability was significantly decreased after incubation (1 h) of the cells with ≥ 1 μM Asi(III), ≥ 1 μM Asi(V), ≥ 500 μM MMA(III), ≥ 100 μM MMA(V), and 500 μM DMA(V) and ≥ 0.1 μM DMA(III). TMAO(V) was not cytotoxic at concentrations up to 10 mM. A significant increase of the number of MN, CA and SCE was found for DMA(III) and MMA(III). Asi(III + V) induced CA and SCE but no MN. TMAO(V), MMA(V) and DMA(V) were not genotoxic in the concentration range tested (up to 5 mM). The nuclear division index (NDI) was not affected by any of the tested arsenic compounds after a recovery period of 14 to 35 h. When the uptake of the chemicals was measured by ICP-MS analysis, it was found that only 0.03% MMA(V) and DMA(V), and 2% MMA(III), Asi(III) and (V) were taken up by the cells. In comparison, 10% of the DMA(III) dose was taken up. The total intracellular concentration of all arsenic compounds increased with increasing arsenic concentrations in the culture medium.Taken together, these data demonstrate that arsenic compounds in the trivalent oxidation state exhibit the strongest genotoxic effects. Trivalent organoarsenic compounds are more membrane permeable than the pentavalent species. The potency of the DNA damage decreases in the order DMA(III) > MMA(III) > Asi(III and V) > MMA(V) > DMA(V) > TMAO(V). We postulate that the induction of genotoxic effects caused by the methylated arsenic species is primarily dependent upon their ability to penetrate cell membranes.