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Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2001 Nov-Dec;23(6):519-31.

Early lead exposure produces lasting changes in sustained attention, response initiation, and reactivity to errors.

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


The present study tested the hypothesis that early lead (Pb) exposure causes lasting attentional dysfunction. Long-Evans dams were fed Pb-adulterated water during gestation and/or lactation; the offspring were tested as adults. The results of a visual discrimination task revealed no Pb effects on learning rate or information-processing speed. However, lasting effects of the early Pb exposure were seen in the subsequent vigilance tasks, particularly in the final task in which onset of the visual cue and cue duration varied randomly across trials. Exposure during both gestation and lactation impaired response initiation. In addition, animals exposed to Pb during lactation only or lactation+gestation committed significantly more omission errors than controls under two specific conditions: (1) trials in which a delay was imposed prior to cue presentation and (2) trials that followed an incorrect response. The pattern of treatment differences indicated that early Pb exposure produced lasting impairment of sustained attention and increased reactivity to errors. Both effects may contribute to the cognitive impairment, problematic classroom behaviors, and increased delinquency associated with early Pb exposure in children. These findings also demonstrate that the developmental timing of the exposure determines the pattern of effects. Thus, conclusions regarding whether or not a particular cognitive or affective function is impaired or spared by early Pb exposure must be limited to the specific timing and intensity of exposure.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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