The toxic effects of formaldehyde on the nervous system

Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2010:203:105-18. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-1352-4_3.


Formaldehyde (FA) is found in the polluted atmosphere of cities, domestic air (e.g., paint, insulating materials, chipboard and plywood, fabrics, furniture, paper), and cigarette smoke, etc.; therefore, everyone and particularly susceptible children may be exposed to FA. FA is also widely used in industrial and medical settings and as a sterilizing agent, disinfectant, and preservative. Therefore, employees may be highly exposed to it in there settings. Of particular concern to the authors are anatomists and medical students, who can be highly exposed to formaldehyde vapor during dissection sessions. Formaldehyde is toxic over a range of doses; chances of exposure and subsequent harmful effects are increased as (room) temperature increases, because of FA's volatility. Many studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of FA during systemic and respiratory exposures in rats. This review compiles that literature and emphasizes the neurotoxic effects of FA on neuronal morphology, behavior, and biochemical parameters. The review includes the results of some of the authors' work related to FA neurotoxicity, and such neurotoxic effects from FA exposure were experimentally demonstrated. Moreover, the effectiveness of some antioxidants such as melatonin, fish omega-3, and CAPE was observed in the treatment of the harmful effects of FA. Despite the harmful effects from FA exposure, it is commonly used in Turkey and elsewhere in dissection laboratories. Consequently, all anatomists must know and understand the effects of this toxic agent on organisms and the environment, and take precautions to avoid unnecessary exposure. The reviewed studies have indicated that FA has neurotoxic characteristics and systemic toxic effects. It is hypothesized that inhalation of FA, during the early postnatal period, is linked to some neurological diseases that occur in adults. Although complete prevention is impossible for laboratory workers and members of industries utilizing FA, certain precautions can be taken to decrease and/or prevent the toxic effects of FA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Formaldehyde / toxicity*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Formaldehyde