Combined effects in toxicology--a rapid systematic testing procedure: cadmium, mercury, and lead

J Toxicol Environ Health. 1978 Sep-Nov;4(5-6):763-76. doi: 10.1080/15287397809529698.


A testing procedure is described for the assessment of the toxicological response (e.g., acute toxicity or mutagenicity) of any combination and number of chemical, physical, and biological agents, with no more effort for a particular combination than for a single agent. The method provides a simple, sensitive, and quantitative index of synergism, antagonism, and additivity, and it has been demonstrated experimentally in rats by determining the acute lethality of combinations of cadmium, mercury, and lead salts. In a combination of two metal salts, the dose of one metal of the pair was fixed at or near the no-effect level while the dose of the second metal was increased until the entire dose-response curve was obtained. To evaluate interactions of the three metals, the previous pair of metals were kept fixed at their combined extrapolated LD1 level, and the third metal was increased. The statistical treatment of the data employed a computer program that did not involve probit transformations, but rather the approximate linear relationship between the fractional response and the logarithm of the dose. A particular combination could be synergistic, antagonistic, or additive, depending on the relative doses employed. Generally, a combination was synergistic when the most toxic member was present at or near its LD1 dose in the presence of the much less toxic member; the same combination was protective when the least toxic member was present at or near its LD1 dose. The results clarify apparently contradictory reports regarding the biological effects of metal combinations. The application of the testing procedure to combinations of mutagens is described, and an example is cited involving, for a particular bacterial mutagen, a combination of N-methyl-N'-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine with ethylmethanesulfonate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cadmium / toxicity*
  • Computers
  • Drug Interactions
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Lead / toxicity*
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Mercury / toxicity*
  • Mutagens
  • Rats
  • Toxicology / methods*


  • Mutagens
  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Mercury