Children differ from adults in the relative importance of lead sources and pathways, lead metabolism, and the toxicities expressed. The central nervous system effects of lead on children seem not to be reversible. Periods of enhanced vulnerability within childhood have not consistently been identified. The period of greatest vulnerability might be endpoint specific, perhaps accounting for the failure to identify a coherent “behavioral signature” for lead toxicity. The bases for the substantial individual variability in vulnerability to lead are uncertain, although they might include genetic polymorphisms and contextual factors. The current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention screening guideline of 10 μg/dL is a risk management tool and should not be interpreted as a threshold for toxicity. No threshold has been identified, and some data are consistent with effects well below 10. Historically, most studies have concentrated on neurocognitive effects of lead, but higher exposures have recently been associated with morbidities such as antisocial behavior and delinquency. Studies of lead toxicity in experimental animal models are critical to the interpretation of nonexperimental human studies, particularly in addressing the likelihood that associations observed in the latter studies can be attributed to residual confounding. Animal models are also helpful in investigating the behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms of the functional deficits observed in lead-exposed humans. Studies of adults who have been exposed to lead are of limited use in understanding childhood lead toxicity because developmental and acquired lead exposure differ in terms of the maturity of the organs affected, the presumed mechanisms of toxicity, and the forms in which toxicities are expressed.

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