Early-life metal exposure and schizophrenia: A proof-of-concept study using novel tooth-matrix biomarkers

Eur Psychiatry. 2016 Aug;36:1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2016.03.006. Epub 2016 Jun 14.


Background: Despite evidence for the effects of metals on neurodevelopment, the long-term effects on mental health remain unclear due to methodological limitations. Our objective was to determine the feasibility of studying metal exposure during critical neurodevelopmental periods and to explore the association between early-life metal exposure and adult schizophrenia.

Methods: We analyzed childhood-shed teeth from nine individuals with schizophrenia and five healthy controls. We investigated the association between exposure to lead (Pb(2+)), manganese (Mn(2+)), cadmium (Cd(2+)), copper (Cu(2+)), magnesium (Mg(2+)), and zinc (Zn(2+)), and schizophrenia, psychotic experiences, and intelligence quotient (IQ). We reconstructed the dose and timing of early-life metal exposures using laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

Results: We found higher early-life Pb(2+) exposure among patients with schizophrenia than controls. The differences in log Mn(2+) and log Cu(2+) changed relatively linearly over time to postnatal negative values. There was a positive correlation between early-life Pb(2+) levels and psychotic experiences in adulthood. Moreover, we found a negative correlation between Pb(2+) levels and adult IQ.

Conclusions: In our proof-of-concept study, using tooth-matrix biomarker that provides direct measurement of exposure in the fetus and newborn, we provide support for the role of metal exposure during critical neurodevelopmental periods in psychosis.

Keywords: Environmental exposure; Lead; Neurodevelopmental disorders; Psychosis; Tooth; Trace elements.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Cadmium / analysis
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Copper / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Lead / analysis
  • Male
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis*
  • Schizophrenia / etiology*
  • Tooth*
  • Zinc / analysis


  • Biomarkers
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Copper
  • Zinc