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Neurotoxicology. 2011 Jan;32(1):83-99. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2010.09.004. Epub 2010 Sep 25.

Interactions of lifetime lead exposure and stress: behavioral, neurochemical and HPA axis effects.

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Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, a joint Institute of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Piscataway, NJ 08854, United States.


Lead (Pb) and stress co-occur as risk factors, share biological substrates and produce common adverse effects. We previously found that prenatal restraint stress (PS) or offspring stress (OS) could enhance maternal Pb-induced behavioral, brain neurotransmitter level and HPA axis changes. The current study examined how lifetime Pb exposure, consistent with human environmental exposure, interacts with stress. Dams were exposed to Pb beginning 2 mos prior to breeding (0, 50 or 150ppm in drinking water), PS on gestational days 16 and 17, or the combination. Offspring continued on the same Pb exposure as the dam. A subset of Pb+PS offspring also received 3 additional stress challenges (OS), yielding 9 exposure groups/gender: 0-NS, 0-PS, 0-OS, 50-NS, 50-PS, 50-OS, 150-NS, 150-PS and 150-OS. As with maternal Pb (Virgolini et al., 2008a), lifetime Pb and stress influenced Fixed Interval (FI) behavior primarily in females. Relative to 0-NS control, reductions in postreinforcement pause (PRP) times were seen only with combined Pb+PS (50-PS, 50-OS, 150-PS). Stress increased FI response rates when Pb alone was without effect (150-PS, 150-OS), but gradually mitigated rate increases produced by Pb alone (50-PS, 50-OS), effects that appear to be due primarily to PS, as they were of comparable magnitude in PS and OS groups. Individual subject data suggest that enhanced Pb and PS effects reflect increasing numbers of subjects shifting to the high end of the normal range of FI performance values, consistent with a dose-response type of Pb+stress additivity. Consistent with reports of cortico-striatal mediation of both interval timing (PRP) and FI rates, principal component analyses suggested potential mediation via altered frontal cortex norepinephrine, reduced nucleus accumbens dopaminergic control and enhanced striatal monoamine control. Altered FI performance, whether occurring through changes in response rate, PRP, or both, represent behavioral inefficiency and potentially sub-optimal or even dysfunctional resource/energy use.

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