Effects of Low-Level Lead Exposure and Alcohol Consumption Examined

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ngd- An awful, but interesting interaction…

Summary: Low-level exposure to lead during development does not lead to alcohol use disorder, but does alter the neural circuits in a way that if addiction occurs, it makes it harder to refrain from returning to addiction-related behaviors.

Source: Indiana University

A new IU study examining effects of low-level developmental lead exposure in mice could explain why some people dependent on alcohol return to using.

The study, published in Neuropharmacology, looked at whether developmental lead exposure can increase the propensity to relapse to alcohol consumption in mice. The researchers also looked at the effects on the expression of synaptic and non-synaptic glutamate transporters — regulators of brain motivation and reinforcing circuits– in brain regions associated with drug addiction.

“Our data in mice suggests that early life, low-level lead exposure does not lead to the development of an alcohol use disorder in adults per se,” said Stephen Boehm, professor in the Department of Psychology at IUPUI. “However, it does alter brain circuits in such a way that once a dependency is developed, it makes it harder to refrain from turning back to alcohol.”

Although there have been efforts to reduce environmental exposure to lead and to prevent lead poisoning, Boehm said exposure still exists and can cause serious harm and significant health problems, even at low levels. Studies of adults with a history of childhood lead exposure have consistently demonstrated cognitive impairments associated with sustained glutamate signaling.

Boehm and his team studied whether developmental lead exposure increased motivation to consume alcohol by testing mice in an alcohol self-administration paradigm.

The study suggests that low-level lead exposure for humans during childhood and adolescence – so low that kids growing up in old industrial cities might be exposed by merely kicking up dirt during normal play – may be sufficient to enhance relapse to alcohol use in adults struggling with alcohol use disorder.

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