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Environ Health Perspect. 2002 Jun;110 Suppl 3:377-86.

Electrophysiologic and behavioral effects of perinatal and acute exposure of rats to lead and polychlorinated biphenyls.

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  • 1School of Public Health, University at Albany, One University Place B242, Rensselaer, NY 12144-3456, USA.


Lead and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) both cause a reduction of intelligence quotient and behavioral abnormalities in exposed children that have features in common with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We have used rats as a model to study the effects of both perinatal and acute exposure to lead or PCBs in an effort to compare and understand the mechanisms of these nervous system decrements. Long-term potentiation (LTP) is an electrophysiologic measurement that correlates well with cognitive ability. We have determined the effects of chronic perinatal exposure to lead or PCB 153 as well as acute application of these substances to isolated brain slices, with recordings in two areas of the hippocampus, CA1 and CA3. Both substances, whether chronically or acutely applied, significantly reduced LTP in CA1 in animals at age 30 and 60 days. In CA3, they reduced LTP in 30-day animals but potentiated it in 60-day animals. Although neither lead nor PCB 153 alters baseline synaptic transmission at low stimulus strengths, at higher levels they induce changes in the same direction as those of LTP. These results show surprisingly similar actions of these quite different chemicals, and the similarity of effects on chronic and acute application indicates that effects are both pharmacologic and developmental. Behavioral studies of rats exposed to PCBs from contaminated fish show hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and increased frustration relative to unexposed controls. These results demonstrate that lead and PCBs have similar effects on synaptic plasticity and behavior and suggest that the compounds may act through a common mechanism.

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