Gender-based profiles of developmental immunotoxicity to lead in the rat: Assessment in juveniles and adults

T. L. Bunn, P. J. Parsons, E. Kao, R. R. Dietert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Gender-based differences in immunotoxicity induced by the heavy metal lead (Pb) have been observed both in the juvenile chicken and the adult rat following low-level exposure during embryonic development. To better define the gender-based differences, as related to dose following in utero exposure to Pb, potential differential sensitivities were examined after exposure of F344 rats to low concentrations of Pb (0, 50, 100, or 250 ppm Pb) ad libitum throughout gestation. Immune assessment was performed in juveniles (5 wk old) and young adults (13 wk old). At the highest (250 ppm) Pb concentration examined, the delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) response was depressed in females relative to gender-matched controls at both ages; relative spleen weights and relative neutrophil numbers were increased while relative and absolute monocyte numbers and relative basophil numbers were decreased at 13 but not 5 wk of age. In contrast, 250 ppm Pb-treated males did not differ in these endpoints. With in utero exposure to 100 ppm Pb, 13-wk-old females again had decreased relative and absolute monocyte numbers and increased relative neutrophil numbers, although the DTH response was unchanged. Males (with 100 ppm Pb) had increased relative neutrophil numbers, decreased relative lymphocytes, and transiently increased nitrite production seen at 5, but not 13, wk of age. After gestational exposure to 50 ppm Pb, minimal immunotoxic effects were observed in either males or females at either developmental age assessed. These results suggest that differential gender-based immunotoxicity profiles exist after gestational Pb exposure depending on the concentration of Pb administered to the dam. In utero exposure of dams to 250 ppm Pb results in more profound immunotoxicity in females than males. Males are not more sensitive to lower concentrations of Pb than females. Since the 50 ppm exposure produced minimal changes, these data may provide information to establish a no-observed-adverse-effect level (NOAEL) for in utero exposure to Pb. Additionally, while most effects were evident at both juvenile and adult ages, some changes were not fully evident until measured in the adult. Most changes were persistent with only one exception (male nitrite levels at 100 ppm).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-240
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health - Part A: Current Issues
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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