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Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2000 May-Jun;22(3):337-45.

Effects of chronic lead exposure on learning and reaction time in a visual discrimination task.

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Division of Nutritional Sciences and Department of Psychology, Cornell University, 14853, Ithaca, NY, USA.


Long-Evans rats exposed chronically to lead (Pb) acetate (0, 75, or 300 ppm) were tested as adults on an automated, three-choice visual discrimination task as part of a larger study designed to elucidate the cognitive effects of developmental Pb exposure. Median adult BPb levels for the groups were <5, 20, and 36 microgram/dl. The pattern of results suggested a linear effect, with increasing lead dose producing progressively slower learning and an increased incidence of "impaired" individuals. This latter measure proved to be slightly more sensitive than the former, suggesting individual differences in susceptibility to Pb neurotoxicity. Additional analyses revealed that the impairing effect of Pb was seen in both the chance and post-chance learning phases, indicating that the deficit was not limited to (but could include) attentional function. Reaction time on incorrect trials was reduced in the 300-ppm group, whereas no Pb effect was seen for correct trials. The present findings suggest that chronic developmental Pb exposure produces an associative deficit as well as a tendency to respond rapidly, but does not affect information-processing speed.

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