Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease

Themed Content: Role of Environmental Stressors in the Developmental Origins of Disease

Effects of early low-level lead exposure on human brain structure, organization and functions

K. M. Cecila1 c1

a1 Cincinnati Children’s Environmental Health Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Departments of Radiology, Pediatrics, Environmental Health, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH, USA


Advanced neuroimaging techniques offer unique insights into how childhood lead exposure impacts the brain. Volumetric magnetic resonance imaging affords anatomical information about the size of global, regional and subcomponent structures within the brain. Diffusion tensor imaging provides information about white matter architecture by quantitatively describing how water molecules diffuse within it. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy generates quantitative measures of neuronal, axonal and glial elements via concentration levels of select metabolites. Functional magnetic resonance imaging infers neuronal activity associated with a given task performed. Employing these techniques in the study of the Cincinnati Lead Study, a relatively homogeneous birth cohort longitudinally monitored for over 30 years, one can non-invasively and quantitatively explore how childhood lead exposure is associated with adult brain structure, organization and function. These studies yield important findings how environmental lead exposure impacts human health.

(Received April 08 2010)

(Revised August 08 2010)

(Accepted September 04 2010)

(Online publication September 28 2010)


c1 Address for correspondence: K. M. Cecil, PhD, Professor, Radiology, Pediatrics, Neuroscience & Environmental Health, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Department of Radiology, MLC 5033, 3333 Burnet Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45229, USA. (Email