Genetic susceptibility to lead poisoning

Ava O. Onalaja, Luz Claudio

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

190 Scopus citations


Major strides have been taken in the regulation of lead intoxication in the general population, but studies using genetic markers of susceptibility to environmental toxicants raise the question of whether genes can make certain individuals more vulnerable to environmental toxins such as lead. At least three polymorphic genes have been identified that potentially can influence the bioaccumulation and toxicokinetics of lead in humans. The first gene to be discussed in this review is the gene coding for δ-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD), an enzyme of heme biosynthesis,that exists in two polymorphic forms. The resulting isozymes have been shown to affect the blood and bone lead levels in human populations. The effects of ALAD in lead intoxication have also been studied in laboratory mice that differ in the genetic dose for this enzyme. The second gene reviewed here is the vitamin D receptor (VDR) gene. The VDR is involved in calcium absorption through the gut and into calcium-rich tissues such as bone. Recent findings suggest that VDR polymorphism may influence the accumulation of lead in bone. Finally, the third gene to be discussed here that may influence the absorption of lead is the hemochromatosis gene coding for the HFE protein. The presence of mutations in the HFE gene leads to hemochromatosis in homozygotic individuals. Because of the associations between iron and lead transport, it is possible that polymorphisms in the HFE gene may also influence the absorption of lead, but this has not yet been studied. More studies will be needed to define the role of these genes in lead intoxication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-28
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - 2000


  • ALAD
  • Hereditary hemochromatosis
  • Lead accumulation
  • Lead toxicity
  • Polymorphism
  • Vitamin D receptor
  • δ-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase


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