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Lancet. 1989 Jul 1;2(8653):7-12.

Disturbance of cerebral function by aluminium in haemodialysis patients without overt aluminium toxicity.

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Department of Nephrology, London Hospital, Whitechapel.


The psychomotor function of 27 long-term haemodialysis patients with apparently normal cerebral function, who had only mildly raised serum aluminium (mean 59 [SEM 9] micrograms/l), was measured by means of a computerised version of the symbol digit coding test. Compared with those of control subjects matched for age and the patients' estimated premorbid IQ, the patients' response times were significantly longer (2.51 [0.10] vs 1.88 [0.05] s). Abnormalities were also detected in five other computerised tests of psychomotor function. The mean activity of erythrocyte dihydropteridine reductase (DHPR), which is inhibited by aluminium, rose during 3 months' desferrioxamine treatment in most of the 15 patients so treated. Although there was no relation between baseline psychomotor function and either indices of cumulative aluminium exposure or erythrocyte DHPR activity, changes in DHPR induced by desferrioxamine correlated with changes in psychomotor performance (r = 0.62). The flash-stimulated visual evoked potential (measured in 10 patients) was delayed (133.4 [2.4] ms), although the pattern-stimulated visual evoked potential remained normal (101.8 [3.2] ms). The difference between the visual evoked potentials stimulated by flash and pattern was significantly greater in the patients than in the controls (31.6 [4.3] vs 19.4 [2.4] ms) and was significantly related to the symbol digit coding response times and to the oral aluminium intake. The results suggest that much more rigorous exclusion of aluminium from the dialysate and diet of dialysis patients is necessary.

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