Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

"Metal Detector" Gene May Influence Lead Absorption; Variants Predict Higher Blood Lead Levels in Children

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

"Metal Detector" Gene May Influence Lead Absorption; Variants Predict Higher Blood Lead Levels in Children

Article excerpt

An estimated 310,000 U.S. children between ages 1 and 5 have elevated blood lead levels despite efforts to reduce lead in the environment. Research in the past decade has begun to focus on factors that could make some children more susceptible to lead poisoning even at low levels of exposure. A new study explores one such possible factor--gene variants that influence lead absorption--linking variants in two iron metabolism genes to higher blood lead levels in children [EHP 116:1261-1266; Hopkins et al.].

When researchers analyzed umbilical cord blood from 422 children in Mexico, they found that the presence of two variants of the hemochromatosis (HFE) gene--HFE C282Y and HFE H63D--predicted blood lead levels 11% higher than those in children not carrying the variants. Moreover, the presence of either HFE variant combined with a variant form of the transferrin (TF) receptor gene--TF-P570S--predicted blood lead levels 50% higher than in children with none of the variants.

Although the HFE and TF genes normally regulate iron metabolism, they may also influence blood lead levels because lead--like iron--is a divalent metal. Thus, the two metals can be "mistaken" for each other during metabolic processes. The HFE gene regulates iron-binding proteins, including TF, and variant forms of this gene sometimes induce hemochromatosis, a disease characterized by increased intestinal absorption of iron that contributes to abnormally high iron stores in adulthood. …

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