New research project studies toluene-induced damage to the human nervous system

Sep 15, 2021

Toluene is one of the most common organic solvents used in paints, thinners, adhesives and as an additive in cosmetics. However, knowledge about the mechanisms of toluene’s effects on brain function in humans is still limited. Due to the frequent use of toluene in the workplace, researchers at the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors in Dortmund (IfADo) aim to analyse the physiological, motor and cognitive effects as well as the symptoms in humans with toluene contact in more detail.

ime-lapse video of the installation
Photo: IfADo

Knowledge about the mechanisms of toluene neurotoxicity has so far been largely limited to animal experiments. Therefore, the departments of Toxicology and Psychology & Neurosciences of the IfADo aim to characterise the effects on central nervous system functions in a joint research project. The mechanisms of action of toluene in humans will be explored with regard to both short-term and lasting effects and respective interactions.

Imaging shows neurophysiological changes

In studies, the effects on memory formation, learning and attention processes are investigated. Neuroimaging allows a more detailed investigation of the neurophysiological changes caused by toluene in humans. For example, EEG activity is recorded during task performance to investigate how short- and long-term toluene contact affects the power spectrum and functional connectivity between brain regions.

Millions of people around the world are occupationally exposed to toluene, for example painters and fuel blenders. Toluene is mainly absorbed through inhalation. The short-term toxicity of toluene is associated with reduced activity of the central nervous system. Prolonged exposure can lead to the development of chronic solvent-induced encephalopathy (CSE), characterised by fatigue, memory loss or difficulty concentrating. CSE is a recognised occupational disease in many countries.

Scientific Contact: 
Univ.-Prof. Dr. med. Michael Nitsche
Head of Department Psychology & Neurosciences
Phone: +49 231 1084-301
Email: nitsche@ifado.de

PD Dr. Christoph van Thriel
Head of Group Neurotoxicology and Chemosensation
Phone: +49 231 1084-407
Email: thriel@ifado.de

Press Contact:
Anne Rommel
Press Officer
Phone: +49 231 1084-239
Email: rommel@ifado.de