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Cell Biol Toxicol. 2001;17(1):41-50.

In vitro effect of lead acetate on human erythropoietic progenitors.

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Laboratoire de Microbiologie et Sécurité Alimentaire, Ecole Supérieure de Microbiologie et Sécurité Alimentaire de Brest, ESMISAB/ISAMOR, Plouzané, France.


Lead is known to induce hematological disturbances resulting from abnormalities in cell differentiation and hemoglobin synthesis during hematopoiesis. The aim of the present work was to study human erythropoiesis in vitro in the presence of lead. Human erythroblastic progenitors, burst-forming units-erythroid (BFU-E), were exposed to lead acetate at increasing concentrations during 14 days of culture. Hematotoxicity was evaluated in vitro according to proliferation and differentiation of cell colonies arising from BFU-E development. The ability of cells to synthesize proteins, porphyrins, and hemoglobin was measured by spectrophotometric tests and by high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC). Results showed that in the presence of 10(-3) mol/L lead acetate, no hemoglobinized cells were observed in culture and no fluorescent porphyrins were detected in cells. Up to 10(-3) mol/L, lead acetate is not cytotoxic, i.e., it does not induce cell destruction. The present work demonstrates that lead acetate interferes with the porphyrin synthesis of human erythroblastic progenitors in vitro. The decrease of porphyrin content with 10(-5) mol/L lead acetate suggest that delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase can be inhibited by lead acetate during in vitro erythropoiesis. In vivo erythropoiesis occurs in the bone marrow. As about 95% of the body burden of lead in adults is located in the bones with a biological half-life of some years, the concentration of lead acetate found to block porphyrin synthesis in vitro has to be compared with in situ bone marrow lead concentrations.

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