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Ind Health. 2000 Apr;38(2):127-42.

Biomarkers of lead exposure.

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Center of Occupational Medicine, Tokyo Labor Accident Hospital, Japan.


Biomarkers of exposure, effect, and susceptibility are reviewed in relation to lead exposure. Of the biomarkers of lead exposure, blood lead (Pb-B), mainly red cell lead, is a representative of soft tissue lead, and most widely used as measures of body burden and absorbed (internal) doses of lead. Urine lead (Pb-U) as well as plasma lead (Pb-P) increases exponentially with increasing Pb-B under a steady-state situation and is a reflection of recent exposure. The amount of lead in plasma and urine (MPb-P and MPb-U) after administration of a chelating agent (e.g. CaEDTA) can be useful for biomarkers of internal exposure of lead, reflecting the mobilizable pool of lead which consists of mainly blood and soft tissue lead with only a small fraction derived from bones. The critical effects in bone marrow arise mainly from the interaction of lead with some enzymatic process responsible for heme synthesis. The effects can be used for the biomarkers of effects. They are the inhibition of delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD) and the variation in some metabolite concentrations (e.g. delta-aminolevulinic acid in urine (ALA-U), blood (ALA-B) or plasma (ALA-P), coproporphyrin in urine (CP), zinc protoporphyrin (ZP) in blood). The activities of pyrimidine nucleotidase (P5'N) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide synthetase (NADS) in blood are also decreased in lead exposure, and nucleotide contents in blood is altered in lead exposure. These effects of lead on human can be also useful biomarkers of effect. The differences in levels of heme precursors between two types of ALAD genotypes might be attributable to those in the affinity of different ALAD isozymes to lead. ALAD1 homozygotes have higher levels of ZP and ALA in comparison with ALAD2 carriers at the high lead exposure, suggesting that ALAD1 homozygotes might be more susceptible for disturbance in heme biosynthesis by lead than ALAD2 carriers.

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