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J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2009;72(10):625-32. doi: 10.1080/15287390902769410.

Neurocognitive screening of lead-exposed andean adolescents and young adults.

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Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School/The Biological Laboratories, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.


This study was designed to assess the utility of two psychometric tests with putative minimal cultural bias for use in field screening of lead (Pb)-exposed Ecuadorian Andean workers. Specifically, the study evaluated the effectiveness in Pb-exposed adolescents and young adults of a nonverbal reasoning test standardized for younger children, and compared the findings with performance on a test of auditory memory. The Raven Coloured Progressive Matrices (RCPM) was used as a test of nonverbal intelligence, and the Digit Span subtest of the Wechsler IV intelligence scale was used to assess auditory memory/attention. The participants were 35 chronically Pb-exposed Pb-glazing workers, aged 12-21 yr. Blood lead (PbB) levels for the study group ranged from 3 to 86 microg/dl, with 65.7% of the group at and above 10 microg/dl. Zinc protoporphyrin heme ratios (ZPP/heme) ranged from 38 to 380 micromol/mol, with 57.1% of the participants showing abnormal ZPP/heme (>69 micromol/mol). ZPP/heme was significantly correlated with PbB levels, suggesting chronic Pb exposure. Performance on the RCPM was less than average on the U.S., British, and Puerto Rican norms, but average on the Peruvian norms. Significant inverse associations between PbB/ZPP concentrations and RCPM standard scores using the U.S., Puerto Rican, and Peruvian norms were observed, indicating decreasing RCPM test performance with increasing PbB and ZPP levels. RCPM scores were significantly correlated with performance on the Digit Span test for auditory memory. Mean Digit Span scale score was less than average, suggesting auditory memory/attention deficits. In conclusion, both the RCPM and Digit Span tests were found to be effective instruments for field screening of visual-spatial reasoning and auditory memory abilities, respectively, in Pb-exposed Andean adolescents and young adults.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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