Lead (Pb) is an environmental pollutant with a toxicity that is a serious public health problem. The aim of this research was to evaluate the associations between Pb exposure and morphometric, hematological and biochemical parameters, mRNA expression of the P53, SOD1, ALAD, TNF and INF-γ genes, ALAD polymorphisms (db SNP ID: rs1800435) and Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in children from the Colombian Caribbean. Blood lead levels (BLL) were determined in 554 participants between the ages of 5-16 years old, from different places of the Colombian Caribbean. A health survey was given to assess risk factors. Whole blood was used for hematology and plasma employed to analyze markers of hepatic toxicity. Gene expression was quantified from blood mRNA by RT-PCR. The ALAD polymorphism was characterized by PCR-RFLP, and the Kaufman's brief intelligence test was employed to estimate the IQ. The mean BLL was 3.5 ± 0.2 μg/dL. The site of greatest exposure to Pb was Tasajera, a poor fishing community, with an average of 8.9 ± 0.8 μg/dL. Breastfeeding was associated with high BLL. Morphometric characteristics and IQ were negatively correlated with BLL. The blood platelet count and the mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration showed positive and negative correlations with BLL, respectively. Negative relationships with BLL were observed with the ratios Neutrophils/Eosinophils and Neutrophils/Basophils, whereas for BLL and Neutrophils/Monocytes the association was positive. The associations between morphometric and some hematological parameters with BLL were age- and gender-related. The expression of ALAD, SOD1, INF-γ and P53 mRNA was down-regulated according to the BLL, whereas TNF showed an opposite trend. In short, fishing communities are at a high risk of Pb exposure. This xenobiotic can affect physical development and IQ, as well as hematological parameters, even at low concentrations. In addition, it can regulate the transcription of genes associated with inflammation, apoptosis, cell cycle, heme synthesis, and oxidative stress.
Keywords: ALAD; Gene expression; Heavy metal; Hematology; IQ.
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