Low blood lead levels impair intellectual and hematological function in children from Cartagena, Caribbean coast of Colombia

J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2017 Dec;44:233-240. doi: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2017.08.006. Epub 2017 Aug 9.


Lead produces numerous biochemical and physiological changes in humans, including hematological disorders, toxic effects on the central nervous system and in the function of several organs. The aim of this study was to determine blood lead levels (BLL) in children from Cartagena, Colombia, associating those with hematological and liver damage markers, the intelligence quotient (IQ), as well as with gene expression of the aminolevulinate dehydratase (ALAD), superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1), gamma interferon (INF-γ), tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and tumor protein (p53). To achieve this purpose, 118 blood samples were collected from children 5-16 years old, with their respective informed consent from their parents. BLL was measured by atomic absorption; hematological parameters were obtained with automated systems; plasma was utilized to analyze hepatic toxicity markers, alanine aminotransferase (ALT), gamma-glutamyltransferase (γ-GT) and alkaline phosphatase (ALP); the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test (K-BIT) was administered to measure the IQ; and gene expression was quantified from blood RNA. The mean BLL was 1.7±0.3μg/dL. A low proportion of the children (3.4%) had BLL above the CDC recommended limit (5μg/dL). BLL were correlated weakly, but negatively with child age, weight, height, body mass index, platelets wide distribution, mean platelet volume, γ-GT and IQ. There were not significant changes in the expression of evaluated genes. These results support the hypothesis that BLL below 5μg/dL may still be a detrimental factor on children's cognitive abilities, development and hematology, in line with recent concerns that there is no safe level of pediatric lead exposure.

Keywords: ALAD; Colombia; Heme; IQ; Intoxication.

MeSH terms

  • Caribbean Region
  • Child
  • Colombia
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Geography
  • Hematologic Tests*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*
  • Lead / blood*
  • Male
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • Lead