Excessive manganese (Mn) has been associated with neurobehavioral deficits and neurological and/or neuropsychiatric illness, but the level at which this metal can cause adverse neurotoxic effects, particularly with long-term exposure, is still unknown. The objective of the present study was to assess nervous system functions in residents exposed to manganese from a variety of environmental sources. A random stratified sampling procedure was used to select participants; persons with a history of workplace exposure to Mn and other neurotoxic substances were excluded. A self-administered questionnaire provided data on socio-demographic variables. Blood samples were analyzed for total manganese (MnB), lead, mercury and serum iron. Nervous system assessment included computer and hand-administered neurobehavioral tests, computerized neuromotor tests, sensory evaluation and a neurological examination. The present analyses include 273 persons (151 women and 122 men); MnB range: 2.5 micrograms/L-15.9 micrograms/L (median: 7.3 micrograms/L). Multivariate analyses were used and neuro-outcomes were examined with respect to MnB, taking into account potential confounders and covariables. Results were grouped according to neurofunctional areas and MANOVA analyses revealed that higher MnB (7.5 micrograms/L) was significantly associated with changes in coordinated upper limb movements (Wilks' lambda = 0.92; p = 0.04) and poorer learning and recall (men: Wilks' lambda = 0.77; p = 0.002; women: Wilks' lambda = 0.86; p = 0.04). Further analyses revealed that with increasing log MnB (Simple regression: p < 0.05) performance on a pointing task was poorer, frequency dispersion of hand-arm tremor decreased, while harmonic index increased, and the velocity of a pronation/supination arm movement was slower. An Mn-age interaction was observed for certain motor tasks, with the poorest performance observed among those _50 y and in the higher MnB category. Differences between genders suggest that men may be at greater risk than women, although effects were also observed in women. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that Mn neurotoxicity can be viewed on a continuum of dysfunction, with early, subtle changes at lower exposure levels.
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