Nerve excitability test and lead toxicity: a case-control study

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Background: Although conventional electrophysiological parameters have been proposed as clinical indicators for monitoring lead neuropathies, their correlations with blood lead level are weak. In this study, we investigated the applicability of nerve excitability tests (NETs) to evaluate lead intoxication. Methods: Fourteen workers who were exposed to lead with an elevated blood level ranging from 17.8 to 64.9 µg/dL and 20 healthy controls with similar ages and body heights were enrolled. Both workers and controls underwent nerve conduction studies (NCSs), motor evoked potentials (MEPs) with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and NETs. Results: NCSs showed prolonged distal latencies and decreased motor nerve conduction velocity of median nerves in the workers but without significant correlation to blood lead level (BLL). Significantly prolonged MEP latency was observed in the workers (+ 6 ms). NETs demonstrated hyperpolarized resting membrane potentials in stimulus-response curves and changes in the property of potassium channels under a hyperpolarized current in threshold electrotonus, implying that lead hyperpolarized nerves by interfering with potassium channels. NETs also showed a better correlation with BLL than conventional electrophysiological parameters. Conclusions: Axonal hyperpolarization and central conduction delay are more apparently reflecting elevated BLL than NCS. NET may have the potential for early detection of lead neuropathy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalJournal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Dec

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Safety Research
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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