Lead is a toxin known to harm many organs in the body, particularly the central nervous system, across an individual’s lifespan. To date, no study has yet investigated the associations between body lead level and the microstructural properties of gray matter areas, and brain activity during attention-demanding tasks. Here, utilizing data of diffusion tensor imaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging and cognitive measures among 920 typically developing young adults, we show greater hair lead levels are weakly but significantly associated with (a) increased working memory-related activity in the right premotor and pre-supplemental motor areas, (b) lower fractional anisotropy (FA) in white matter areas near the internal capsule, (c) lower mean diffusivity (MD) in the dopaminergic system in the left hemisphere and other widespread contingent areas, and (d) greater MD in the white matter area adjacent to the right fusiform gyrus. Higher lead levels were also weakly but significantly associated with lower performance in tests of high-order cognitive functions, such as the psychometric intelligence test, greater impulsivity measures, and higher novelty seeking and extraversion. These findings reflect the weak effect of daily lead level on the excitability and microstructural properties of the brain, particularly in the dopaminergic system.
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