This study was designed to clarify the nature of effects of trichloroethylene (TCE) on the central nervous system, and to determine the critical concentrations in blood associated with specific behavioural changes. This was achieved by a follow up of the whole time course of TCE intoxication during and after exposure. The effects of a single four hour exposure to TCE on signalled bar press shock avoidance in rats were tested by methods previously applied to investigate the acute neurobehavioural effects of exposure to toluene. Even low exposure to TCE induced shock avoidance performance decrements in rats. Rats exposed to 250 ppm TCE showed a significant decrease both in the total number of lever presses and in avoidance responses at 140 minutes of exposure compared with controls. The rats did not recover their pre-exposure performance until 140 minutes after the exhaustion of TCE vapour. Exposures in the range 250 ppm to 2000 ppm TCE for four hours produced concentration related decreases in the avoidance response rate. No apparent acceleration of the reaction time was seen during exposure to 1000 or 2000 ppm TCE. The latency to a light signal was somewhat prolonged during the exposure to 2000 to 4000 ppm TCE. It is estimated that there was depression of the central nervous system with slight performance decrements and the corresponding blood concentration was 40 micrograms/ml during exposure. Depression of the central nervous system with anaesthetic performance decrements was produced by a blood TCE concentration of about 100 micrograms/ml. These results showed effects of TCE on the central nervous system that were considered to be a function of both the exposure concentration and the duration of exposure, which are closely related to the TCE concentration in blood.
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