Defining hormesis: evaluation of a complex concentration response phenomenon

Int J Toxicol. May-Jun 2010;29(3):235-46. doi: 10.1177/1091581810363012.


Hormesis describes dose-response relationships characterized by a reversal of response between low and high doses of chemicals, biological molecules, physical stressors, or other initiators of a response. Acceptance of hormesis as a viable dose-response theory has been limited until recently, in part, because of poor conceptual understanding, ad hoc and inappropriate use, and lack of a defined mechanism. By examining the history of this dose-response theory, it is clear that both pharmacological and toxicological studies provide evidence for hormetic dose responses, but retrospective examination of studies can be problematic at best. Limited scientific evidence and lack of a common lexicon with which to describe these responses have left hormesis open to inappropriate application to unrelated dose-response relationships. Future studies should examine low-dose effects using unbiased, descriptive criteria to further the scientific understanding of this dose response. A clear, concise definition is required to further the limited scientific evidence for hormetic dose responses.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug*
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Pharmacokinetics*
  • Pharmacology / methods
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Toxicology / history
  • Toxicology / methods