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Neurotoxicology. 2009 Jul;30(4):572-80. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2009.05.007. Epub 2009 May 27.

Bone lead levels are associated with measures of memory impairment in older adults.

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Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, NY, United States.


Accumulating evidence suggests a link between lead exposure and memory impairment but assessments based on predictive and validated measures are lacking. We conducted a pilot study of 47 healthy subjects 55-67 years of age to examine associations between bone lead levels and 4 tests sensitive to the natural history of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease (AD). These include three subtests of the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (delayed match-to-sample, paired associates learning and spatial recognition memory) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test. Bone lead concentrations were measured at the mid-shaft of the tibia and the calcaneus with K X-ray fluorescence. Higher tibial and calcaneal bone lead values were significantly (p<0.05) associated with lower performance levels on delayed match-to-sample and paired associates learning in unadjusted analyses with Spearman rank correlation coefficients of about 0.4. Multiple linear regression analyses (i.e., least-squares means of cognitive test scores across tertiles of lead exposure) adjusted for age, education and smoking status continued to show an association of higher calcaneal lead levels with increasing memory impairments on delayed match-to-sample (p=0.07). As might be expected, additional adjustment for history of hypertension reduced the strength of this association (p=0.19). Given the demonstrated impact of lead exposure on hypertension and the vascular etiology of certain dementias, we speculate that hypertension could play a mediating role in the association between lead exposure and memory impairment.

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