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Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Apr;112(5):548-52.

Prenatal lead exposure, delta-aminolevulinic acid, and schizophrenia.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, 722 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, USA.


Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder of unknown etiology. Recent reports suggest that a number of environmental factors during prenatal development may be associated with schizophrenia. We tested the hypothesis that environmental lead exposure may be associated with schizophrenia using archived serum samples from a cohort of live births enrolled between 1959 and 1966 in Oakland, California. Cases of schizophrenia spectrum disorder were identified and matched to controls. A biologic marker of lead exposure, delta-aminolevulinic acid (delta-ALA), was determined in second-trimester serum samples of 44 cases and 75 controls. delta-ALA was stratified into high and low categories, yielding 66 subjects in the high category, corresponding to a blood lead level (BPb) greater than or equal to 15 micro g/dL, and 53 in the low category, corresponding to BPb less than 15 micro g/dL. Using logistic regression, the odds ratio (OR) for schizophrenia associated with higher delta-ALA was 1.83 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.87-3.87; p = 0.1]. Adjusting for covariates gave an OR of 2.43 (95% CI, 0.99-5.96; p = 0.051). This finding suggests that the effects of prenatal exposure to lead and/or elevated delta-ALA may extend into later life and must be further investigated as risk factors for adult psychiatric diseases.

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