The neurotoxic effects of inorganic lead are known to include peripheral neuropathy in adults and encephalopathy in children. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of inorganic lead (PbCl2) administration on norepinephrinergic neurons of the locus ceruleus in neonatal rats by immunocytochemical and electron microscopic analyses. Lead chloride solutions, 0.05%, 0.1% and 0.2% in concentrations, were prepared in distilled water and administered orally via drinking water. After 4, 8, or 12 weeks of continuous administration, the rats were sacrificed and brains were immunostained with the tyrosine hydroxylase antibody. The number of immuno-reactive cell bodies in the locus ceruleus was estimated. Densitometric analysis of immunoreactive profiles visualized by electron microscopy was performed using an image analyzer. The numbers of immunoreactive neurons in the locus ceruleus were increased statistically by lead administration. The intensity of the immunoreaction, both under the light and electron microscopes was also increased. Degenerative changes, including intra-axonal vacuole formation and widening of the extracellular spaces, were found by electron microscopy in and around the tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactive axons. Increased tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactivity may correlate with the hyper- reactivity of lead intoxicated children. Degenerative changes may account for the reported deficits in intellectual attainment and achievement in lead intoxicated children.
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