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What is neurotoxicity?

Neurotoxicity occurs when the exposure to natural or manmade toxic substances (neurotoxicants) alters the normal activity of the nervous system. This can eventually disrupt or even kill neurons (nerve cells) which are important for transmitting and processing signals in the brain and other parts of the nervous system.

Neurotoxicity can result from exposure to substances used in chemotherapy, radiation treatment, drug therapies, and organ transplants, as well as exposure to heavy metals such as lead and mercury, certain foods and food additives, pesticides, industrial and/or cleaning solvents, cosmetics, and some naturally occurring substances. Symptoms, which may appear immediately after exposure or be delayed, may include:

  • Limb weakness or numbness
  • Loss of memory, vision, and/or intellect
  • Headache
  • Cognitive and behavioral problems
  • Sexual dysfunction

    Individuals with certain disorders may be especially vulnerable to neurotoxicants.

    Treatment involves eliminating or reducing exposure to the toxic substance, followed by symptomatic and supportive therapy. The outlook depends upon the length and degree of exposure and the severity of neurological injury. Many individuals recover completely after treatment. Some individuals may survive but not fully recover. In other instances, exposure to neurotoxicants can be fatal.

    Learn About Clinical Trials
    Clinical trials are studies that allow us to learn more about disorders and improve care. They can help connect patients with new and upcoming treatment options.

    How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with neurotoxicity?

    Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about neurotoxicity and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

    All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

    For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with neurotoxicity at

    Where can I find more information about neurotoxicity?

    Information may be available from the following resources:

    Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

    National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

    Order publications from the NINDS Catalog
    The NINDS Publication Catalog offers printed materials on neurological disorders for patients, health professionals, and the general public. All materials are free of charge, and a downloadable PDF version is also available for most publications.