Lead exposure is associated with functional and microstructural changes in the healthy human brain

Hikaru Takeuchi, Yasuyuki Taki, Rui Nouchi, Ryoichi Yokoyama, Yuka Kotozaki, Seishu Nakagawa, Atsushi Sekiguchi, Kunio Iizuka, Sugiko Hanawa, Tsuyoshi Araki, Carlos Makoto Miyauchi, Kohei Sakaki, Takayuki Nozawa, Shigeyuki Ikeda, Susum Yokota, Magistro Daniele, Yuko Sassa, Ryuta Kawashima

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Lead is a toxin known to harm many organs in the body, particularly the central nervous system, across an individual’s lifespan. To date, no study has yet investigated the associations between body lead level and the microstructural properties of gray matter areas, and brain activity during attention-demanding tasks. Here, utilizing data of diffusion tensor imaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging and cognitive measures among 920 typically developing young adults, we show greater hair lead levels are weakly but significantly associated with (a) increased working memory-related activity in the right premotor and pre-supplemental motor areas, (b) lower fractional anisotropy (FA) in white matter areas near the internal capsule, (c) lower mean diffusivity (MD) in the dopaminergic system in the left hemisphere and other widespread contingent areas, and (d) greater MD in the white matter area adjacent to the right fusiform gyrus. Higher lead levels were also weakly but significantly associated with lower performance in tests of high-order cognitive functions, such as the psychometric intelligence test, greater impulsivity measures, and higher novelty seeking and extraversion. These findings reflect the weak effect of daily lead level on the excitability and microstructural properties of the brain, particularly in the dopaminergic system.

Original languageEnglish
Article number912
JournalCommunications biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Dec
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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