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J Endocrinol Invest. 2009 Feb;32(2):175-83.

The effect of lead intoxication on endocrine functions.

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Department of General Medicine and Endocrinology, St George's Hospital, University of London, London, UK.


Studies on the effects of lead on the endocrine system are mainly based on occupationally lead-exposed workers and experimental animal models. Although evidence is conflicting, it has been reported that accumulation of lead affects the majority of the endocrine glands. In particular, it appears to have an effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary axis causing blunted TSH, GH, and FSH/LH responses to TRH, GHRH, and GnRH stimulation, respectively. Suppressed GH release has been reported, probably caused by reduced synthesis of GHRH, inhibition of GHRH release or reduced somatotrope responsiveness. Higher levels of PRL in lead intoxication have been reported. In short-term lead-exposed individuals, high LH and FSH levels are usually associated to normal testosterone concentrations, whereas in long-term exposed individuals' low testosterone levels do not induce high LH and FSH concentrations. These findings suggest that lead initially causes some subclinical testicular damage, followed by hypothalamic or pituitary disturbance when longer periods of exposure take place. Similarly, lead accumulates in granulosa cells of the ovary, causing delays in growth and pubertal development and reduced fertility in females. In the parenchyma of adrenals histological and cytological changes are demonstrated, causing changes in plasma basal and stress-mediated corticosterone concentrations and reduced cytosolic and nuclear glucocorticoid receptor binding. Thyroid hormone kinetics are also affected. Central defect of the thyroid axis or an alteration in T4 metabolism or binding to proteins may be involved in derangements in thyroid hormone action. Lead toxicity involves alterations on calcitropic hormones' homeostasis, which increase the risk of skeletal disorders.

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