Psychological test performance during experimental challenge to toluene and n-butyl acetate in cases of solvent-induced toxic encephalopathy

Kai Österberg, Palle Örbaek, Björn Karlson, Lena Seger, Bengt Åkesson, Ulf Bergendorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: This study determined whether performance in neurobehavioral tests deteriorates during subjectively annoying chemical challenge below known neurotoxic thresholds among persons with toxic encephalopathy with subjective hypersensitivity to chemicals.

METHODS: Subjects with symptoms and previous neuropsychological test results compatible with toxic encephalopathy (TE) of either type 2A (N=12) or 2B (N=12) and unexposed referents (N=12) were challenged in an exposure chamber. In a counterbalanced design, the subjects were exposed on 2 occasions to increasing air concentrations of n-butyl acetate and toluene at levels well below the thresholds for neurotoxic effects. Attention and motor speed tests were given (i) in room air outside the chamber before the challenge, (ii) in room air inside the chamber before the exposure, (iii) at 12 ppm (44 or 56 mg/m3), and (iv) at 48 ppm (at 180 or 228 mg/m3).

RESULTS: For both substances the TE groups showed a slight increase (deterioration) in the simple reaction-time task during chemical exposure, but not in the complex reaction-time task or in the digit symbol test of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. Contrary to reference subjects, the TE subjects did not show any improvement or learning effect in the digit symbol test over the chamber phases. n-Butyl acetate tended to affect cognitive functioning more obviously than toluene did. Suggestion or expectancy effects were not observed in any group in the clean-air baseline conditions.

CONCLUSIONS: The results do not support the notion that men with subjective hypersensitivity to chemicals would be more affected than healthy men regarding cognitive functioning during annoying solvent exposure below thresholds for acute neurotoxic effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-226
JournalScandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2000

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Environmental Health and Occupational Health

Free keywords

  • cacosmia
  • chemical sensitivity
  • exposure chamber
  • neuropsychological test


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