Childhood lead exposure is associated with decreased brain volume in adults
Childhood exposure to lead is associated with shrinking (“volume loss”) of specific parts of the brain in adulthood, finds a related study in this week’s PLoS Medicine. Dr Kim Cecil and colleagues (University of Cincinnati, USA) studied the association between exposure to lead in the uterus and during early childhood and brain volume in adulthood.
Childhood lead exposure has been linked to various types of brain damage, leading to problems such as abnormal thinking and behavior. But up until now, researchers have known little about how lead damages the brain in this way or about which brain regions get damaged by exposure to low to moderate levels of lead in childhood.
Dr Cecil and colleagues studied adults who were born in a poor area of Cincinnati during a time when it had a high concentration of older lead-contaminated housing. They recruited 157 such adults, aged between 15 and 17 years, who agreed to undergo specialized brain scans known as magnetic resonance imaging.
The researchers found that exposure to lead as a child was linked with brain volume loss in adulthood, especially in men. There was a “dose-response” effect—in other words, the greatest brain volume loss was seen in participants with the greatest lead exposure in childhood. The specific regions of the brain involved were those responsible for organizing actions, decisions, and behaviors (known as “executive functions”), regulating behaviors, and coordinating fine movements (known as “fine motor control”).
“This analysis,” say the authors, “suggests that adverse cognitive and behavioral outcomes may be related to lead's effect on brain development producing persistent alterations in structure.”
In an expert commentary on this study, Dr David Bellinger (Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA)—who was uninvolved in the research—says: “the associations observed by Cecil and colleagues provide a clear warning sign that early lead exposure disrupts brain development in ways that are likely to be permanent.”
CITATION: Cecil KM, Brubaker CJ, Adler CM, Dietrich KN, Altaye M, et al. (2008) Decreased brain volume in adults with childhood lead exposure. PLoS Med 5(5): e112.
IN YOUR COVERAGE PLEASE LINK TO THIS URL, WHICH WILL PROVIDE ACCESS TO THE PUBLISHED PAPER: http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050112
PRESS-ONLY PREVIEW OF THE ARTICLE: http://www.plos.org/press/plme-05-05-cecil.pdf
Related image for press use (please feel free to reproduce this image as long as you credit the image source):
- http://www.plos.org/press/plme-05-05-cecil.jpg (Image Credit: Fig 1 from Cecil KM et al PLoS Med (5)5: e112. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050112)
- Caption: Regional brain volume loss for the Cincinnati lead study participants
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Citation: Bellinger DC (2008) Neurological and behavioral consequences of childhood lead exposure. PLoS Med 5(5): e115.
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THE FOLLOWING RESEARCH ARTICLE WILL ALSO BE PUBLISHED IN PLoS MEDICINE:
Cancers contain genes inactivated in multiple ways
Stephen Baylin and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine show that a combined genetic and epigenetic analysis of breast and colon cancers identifies a number of clinically significant genes targeted by multiple modes of inactivation.
Citation: Chan TA, Glockner S, Yi JM, Chen W, Van Neste L, et al. (2008) Convergence of mutation and epigenetic alterations identifies common genes in cancer that predict for poor prognosis. PLoS Med 5(5):e114.
PLEASE ADD THE LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT: http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050114
PRESS-ONLY PREVIEW OF THE ARTICLE: http://www.plos.org/press/plme-05-05-baylin.pdf
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