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Environmental enrichment reverses learning impairments caused by lead poisoning

Environmental enrichment that stimulates brain activity can reverse the long-term learning deficits caused by lead poisoning, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It has long been known that lead poisoning in children affects their cognitive and behavioral development. Despite significant efforts to reduce lead contamination in homes, childhood lead poisoning remains a major public health problem with an estimated 34 million housing units in the United States containing lead paint.

The Hopkins study is the first to demonstrate that the long-term deficits in cognitive function caused by lead can be reversed and offers a basis for the treatment of childhood lead intoxication. The findings appear in the online edition of the Annals of Neurology.

"Lead exposure during development causes long-lasting deficits in learning in experimental animals, but our study shows for the first time that these cognitive deficits are reversible," said lead author Toms R. Guilarte, PhD, professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "This study is particularly important for two reasons. First, it was not known until now whether the effects of lead on cognitive function were reversible. Secondly, the environmental enrichment that reversed the learning deficits was administered after the animals were exposed to lead. Environmental enrichment could be a promising therapy for treating millions of children suffering from the effects of lead poisoning," added Dr. Guilarte.

For their study, Dr. Guilarte, graduate student Christopher Toscano, research technologist Jennifer McGlothan, and research associate Shelley Weaver observed groups of leadtreated or non-treated (control) rats that were raised in an enriched environment. Enrichment cages were multi-level, containing toys, a running wheel, a hammock, platforms, tunnels, and housed multiple animals. Littermates
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Contact: Tim Parsons
paffairs@jhsph.edu
410-955-6878
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health
26-Nov-2002


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