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Interactions of Lifetime Lead Exposure and Stress

Deborah Cory-Slechta, Ph.D.
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
NIEHS Grants P30ES001247 and R01ES012712

Recent laboratory- based research by NIEHS-supported researchers at the University of Rochester and the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute confirm earlier epidemiologic studies that low-level lead exposure and chronic stress interact to cause behavioral and cognitive deficits.

Female laboratory rats were exposed to lead in their drinking water for two months prior to breeding and throughout gestation. At gestation day 16 and 17, some of the pregnant rats were subjected to a restraint stress procedure consisting of three 45 minute sessions. At weaning, offspring pups were provided with unlimited access to food and given the same drinking water regimen that their dams had received. Subsets of the offspring were used for various laboratory tests and some were subjected to a variety of stressors and behavioral tests including a fixed interval reward test.

Subject data suggest that lead and prenatal stress effects shift high numbers of test subjects towards the high end of the normal range of fixed interval performance values. These findings were consistent with a dose-response type of lead and stress additivity. The authors conclude that altered fixed interval performance represents behavioral inefficiency and possibly dysfunctional energy use.

Citation: Rossi-George A, Virgolini MB, Weston D, Thiruchelvam M, Cory-Slechta DA. Interactions of lifetime lead exposure and stress: behavioral, neurochemical and HPA axis effects. Neurotoxicology. 2011 Jan;32(1):83-99.

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