Neurotoxicity of Metal Mixtures

  • V. M. Andrade
  • M. Aschner
  • A. P. Marreilha dos SantosEmail author
Part of the Advances in Neurobiology book series (NEUROBIOL, volume 18)


Metals are the oldest toxins known to humans. Metals differ from other toxic substances in that they are neither created nor destroyed by humans (Casarett and Doull’s, Toxicology: the basic science of poisons, 8th edn. McGraw-Hill, London, 2013). Metals are of great importance in our daily life and their frequent use makes their omnipresence and a constant source of human exposure. Metals such as arsenic [As], lead [Pb], mercury [Hg], aluminum [Al] and cadmium [Cd] do not have any specific role in an organism and can be toxic even at low levels. The Substance Priority List of Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ranked substances based on a combination of their frequency, toxicity, and potential for human exposure. In this list, As, Pb, Hg, and Cd occupy the first, second, third, and seventh positions, respectively (ATSDR, Priority list of hazardous substances. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Atlanta, 2016). Besides existing individually, these metals are also (or mainly) found as mixtures in various parts of the ecosystem (Cobbina SJ, Chen Y, Zhou Z, Wub X, Feng W, Wang W, Mao G, Xu H, Zhang Z, Wua X, Yang L, Chemosphere 132:79–86, 2015). Interactions among components of a mixture may change toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics (Spurgeon DJ, Jones OAH, Dorne J-L, Svendsen C, Swain S, Stürzenbaum SR, Sci Total Environ 408:3725–3734, 2010) and may result in greater (synergistic) toxicity (Lister LJ, Svendsen C, Wright J, Hooper HL, Spurgeon DJ, Environ Int 37:663–670, 2011). This is particularly worrisome when the components of the mixture individually attack the same organs. On the other hand, metals such as manganese [Mn], iron [Fe], copper [Cu], and zinc [Zn] are essential metals, and their presence in the body below or above homeostatic levels can also lead to disease states (Annangi B, Bonassi S, Marcos R, Hernández A, Mutat Res 770(Pt A):140–161, 2016). Pb, As, Cd, and Hg can induce Fe, Cu, and Zn dyshomeostasis, potentially triggering neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD). Additionally, changes in heme synthesis have been associated with neurodegeneration, supported by evidence that a decline in heme levels might explain the age-associated loss of Fe homeostasis (Atamna H, Killile DK, Killile NB, Ames BN, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 99(23):14807–14812, 2002).

The sources, disposition, transport to the brain, mechanisms of toxicity, and effects in the central nervous system (CNS) and in the hematopoietic system of each one of these metals will be described. More detailed information on Pb, Mn, Al, Hg, Cu, and Zn is available in other chapters. A major focus of the chapter will be on Pb toxicity and its interaction with other metals.


Metal neurotoxicity Metal mixtures Hematopoietic toxicity Metal interactions 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. M. Andrade
    • 1
  • M. Aschner
    • 2
  • A. P. Marreilha dos Santos
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Research Institute for Medicines (iMed.ULisboa), Faculty of PharmacyUniversidade de LisboaLisboaPortugal
  2. 2.Department of Molecular PharmacologyAlbert Einstein College of MedicineBronxUSA

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