Molecular mechanisms of lead neurotoxicity

Joseph Dressier, Kyung Ah Kim, Tamal Chakraborti, Gary Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

226 Scopus citations


Epidemiological studies have shown a strong relationship between the level of lead in blood and bone as assessed by performance on IQ tests and other psychometric tests. Approximately 1 out of 10 children in the United States have blood lead levels above 10 μg/dl, which has been established as the level of concern. Studies on experimental animals exposed to lead after birth have shown learning deficits at similar blood lead levels. Since learning requires the remodeling of synapses in the brain, lead may specifically affect synaptic transmission. Although the molecular targets for lead are unknown, a vast amount of evidence accumulated over many years has shown that lead disrupts processes that are regulated by calcium. Our laboratory has been studying the effect of lead on protein kinase C, a family of isozymes some of which require calcium for activity. We and others have shown that picomolar concentrations of lead can replace micromolar concentrations of calcium in a protein kinase C enzyme assay. Furthermore, lead activates protein kinase C in intact cells and induces the expression of new genes by a mechanism dependent on protein kinase C. We propose that the learning deficits caused by lead are due to events regulated by protein kinase C that most likely occur at the synapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-600
Number of pages6
JournalNeurochemical Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1999


  • Behavior
  • Calcium
  • Lead
  • Protein kinase C
  • Synapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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