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Neurobehavioural effects of occupational exposure to cadmium: a cross sectional epidemiological study


BACKGROUND A patient with unexplained minor behavioural changes associated with an axonal sensorimotor polyneuropathy had a history of chronic occupational exposure to cadmium (Cd). Although animal studies have shown that Cd is a potent neurotoxicant, little is known about its toxicity for the human central nervous system. The aim of this study was to investigate the toxic potential of chronic occupational exposure to Cd on neurobehavioural functions.

METHODS A cross sectional epidemiological study was conducted in a group of Cd workers and an age matched control group. Eighty nine adult men (42 exposed to Cd and 47 control workers) were given a blinded standardised examination that consisted of computer assisted neurobehavioural tests (neurobehavioural examination system), a validated questionnaire to assess neurotoxic complaints (neurotoxicity symptom checklist-60, NSC-60), and a standardised self administered questionnaire to detect complaints consistent with peripheral neuropathy and dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Historical and current data on biomonitoring of exposure to Cd, either the highest value of Cd in urine (CdU in μg Cd/g creatinine) of each Cd worker during work (CdUmax) or the current value (CdUcurrent) of each control, were available as well as data on microproteinuria.

RESULTS Cd workers (CdUmax: mean (range), 12.6 (0.4–38.4)) performed worse than the controls (CdUcurrent: mean (range), 0.7 (0.1–2.0)) on visuomotor tasks, symbol digit substitution (p=0.008), and simple reaction time to direction (p=0.058) or location (p=0.042) of a stimulus. In multiple linear regression analysis, symbol digit substitution, simple direction reaction time test, and simple location reaction time test were significantly related to CdUmax, (β=0.35 ( p<0.001), β= 0.25 (p=0.012), and β=0.23 (p=0.021) respectively). More complaints consistent with peripheral neuropathy (p=0.004), complaints about equilibrium (p=0.015), and complaints about concentration ability (p=0.053) were found in the group exposed to Cd than in the control group, and these variables correlated positively with CdUmax (peripheral neuropathy: β=0.38, p<0.001; equilibrium: β=0.22, p=0.057; concentration ability: β=0.27, p=0.020).

CONCLUSION Slowing of visuomotor functioning on neurobehavioural testing and increase in complaints consistent with peripheral neuropathy, complaints about equilibrium, and complaints about concentration ability were dose dependently associated with CdU. Age, exposure to other neurotoxicants, or status of renal function could not explain these findings. The present study also indicates that an excess of complaints may be detected in Cd workers before signs of microproteinuria induced by Cd occur.

  • cadmium
  • neurotoxicity
  • occupational exposure

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