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Mutat Res. 1998 Apr;410(2):123-40.

The genetic effects of environmental lead.

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  • 1Toxicology Operations Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.


This article reviews the effects of lead on genetic systems in the context of lead's various other toxic effects and its abundance and distribution in the environment. Lead is perhaps the longest used and best recognized toxic environmental chemical, yet it continued be used recklessly until only very recently. Lead is thus a lesson in the limitations and strengths of science, human conscience and common sense. Lead has been tested and found to be capable of eliciting a positive response in an extraordinarily wide range of biological and biochemical tests; among them tests for enzyme inhibition, fidelity of DNA synthesis, mutation, chromosome aberrations, cancer and birth defects. It reacts or complexes with many biomolecules and adversely affects the reproductive, nervous, gastrointestinal, immune, renal, cardiovascular, skeletal, muscular and hematopoietic systems as well as developmental processes. It is likely that lead is a selective agent that continues to act on and influence the genetic structure and future evolution of exposed plant and animal populations.

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