Chelating agents are used for poisoning with heavy metals. They incorporate the metal ions into an inner ring structure in the molecule (Greek: chele, claw) by means of structural groups called ligands (Latin: ligare, to bind); effective agents form stable, biologically inert complexes that are excreted in the urine.
Dimercaprol (British Anti-Lewisite, BAL). Arsenic and other metal ions are toxic in low concentration because they combine with the SH groups of essential enzymes, thus inactivating them. Dimercaprol provides SH groups which combine with the metal ions to form relatively harmless ring compounds which are excreted, mainly in the urine. As dimercaprol, itself, is oxidised in the body and renally excreted, repeated administration is necessary to ensure that an excess is available until all the metal has been eliminated.
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