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Neurotoxicology. 1999 Feb;20(1):7-16.

Cadmium: a possible etiological factor in peripheral polyneuropathy.

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Department of Occupational Medicine, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.


Uncovering the exact cause of polyneuropathies seems to be impossible in up to 24% of the cases. Experimental studies have shown that cadmium (Cd), which is a well-known occupational and environmental hazard, can be a potent neurotoxicant for the peripheral nervous system. Moreover, Cd has a half-life of more than 15 years in humans. We hypothesize that older workers may be more susceptible to an increased Cd body burden, and may develop a peripheral polyneuropathy (PNP) over time. A blinded epidemiological survey was performed in 13 retired, long-term Cd-exposed workers and 19 age-matched controls. Historical Cd biomonitoring data were available over the last two decades. A neurological clinical examination, nerve conduction studies, and needle EMG were performed, and a standardized questionnaire was given to evaluate polyneuropathy complaints. If two of the following four criteria, i.e. complaints of polyneuropathy, neurophysiological changes compatible with polyneuropathy, distal symmetrical areflexia, or distal symmetrical anesthesia for vibration sense, temperature or blunt-sharp discrimination were present, the diagnosis of PNP was made. Two (11%) of the control and seven (54%) of the retired Cd workers met the PNP criteria OR: 9.92 (95%CI 1.60-61.6), Fisher exact test p=0.015. The existence of a polyneuropathy was related to the level of the Cd body burden as reflected by urinary Cd multiple logistic regression p=0.016, OR=1.26, (95%CI, 1.04-1.51), but not to blood lead (p=0.352). Our findings favour the hypothesis of a promoting role of increased cadmium body burden in the development of PNP at older age.

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