Succimer chelation improves learning, attention, and arousal regulation in lead-exposed rats but produces lasting cognitive impairment in the absence of lead exposure.

Department of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.
Environmental Health Perspectives (Impact Factor: 7.26). 03/2007; 115(2):201-9. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.9263
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT There is growing pressure for clinicians to prescribe chelation therapy at only slightly elevated blood lead levels. However, very few studies have evaluated whether chelation improves cognitive outcomes in Pb-exposed children, or whether these agents have adverse effects that may affect brain development in the absence of Pb exposure.
The present study was designed to answer these questions, using a rodent model of early childhood Pb exposure and treatment with succimer, a widely used chelating agent for the treatment of Pb poisoning.
Pb exposure produced lasting impairments in learning, attention, inhibitory control, and arousal regulation, paralleling the areas of dysfunction seen in Pb-exposed children. Succimer treatment of the Pb-exposed rats significantly improved learning, attention, and arousal regulation, although the efficacy of the treatment varied as a function of the Pb exposure level and the specific functional deficit. In contrast, succimer treatment of rats not previously exposed to Pb produced lasting and pervasive cognitive and affective dysfunction comparable in magnitude to that produced by the higher Pb exposure regimen.
These are the first data, to our knowledge, to show that treatment with any chelating agent can alleviate cognitive deficits due to Pb exposure. These findings suggest that it may be possible to identify a succimer treatment protocol that improves cognitive outcomes in Pb-exposed children. However, they also suggest that succimer treatment should be strongly discouraged for children who do not have elevated tissue levels of Pb or other heavy metals.

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    ABSTRACT: This presentation summarizes several of the rodent and non-human studies that we have conducted to help inform the efficacy and clinical utility of succimer (meso-2,3-dimercaptosuccincinic acid) chelation treatment. We address the following questions: (1) What is the extent of body lead, and in particular brain lead reduction with chelation, and do reductions in blood lead accurately reflect reductions in brain lead? (2) Can succimer treatment alleviate the neurobehavioral impacts of lead poisoning? And (3) does succimer treatment, in the absence of lead poisoning, produce neurobehavioral deficits? Results from our studies in juvenile primates show that succimer treatment is effective at accelerating the elimination of lead from the body, but chelation was only marginally better than the complete cessation of lead exposure alone. Studies in lead-exposed adult primates treated with a single 19-day course of succimer showed that chelation did not measurably reduce brain lead levels compared to vehicle-treated controls. A follow-up study in rodents that underwent one or two 21-day courses of succimer treatment showed that chelation significantly reduced brain lead levels, and that two courses of succimer were significantly more efficacious at reducing brain lead levels than one. In both the primate and rodent studies, reductions in blood lead levels were a relatively poor predictor of reductions in brain lead levels. Our studies in rodents demonstrated that it is possible for succimer chelation therapy to alleviate certain types of lead-induced behavioral/cognitive dysfunction, suggesting that if a succimer treatment protocol that produced a substantial reduction of brain lead levels could be identified for humans, a functional benefit might be derived. Finally, we also found that succimer treatment produced lasting adverse neurobehavioral effects when administered to non-lead-exposed rodents, highlighting the potential risks of administering succimer or other metal-chelating agents to children who do not have elevated tissue lead levels. It is of significant concern that this type of therapy has been advocated for treating autism.
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