A study of lead uptake and distribution in horns from lead-dosed goats using synchrotron radiation-induced micro X-ray fluorescence elemental imaging

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Diana Filipa Guimarães
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Objective: The principal goal of this study was to investigate the uptake and distribution of lead (Pb) in the horns of Pb-dosed goats, and to explore possible links to their historical Pb dosing records. Horn is a keratinized material that grows in discrete increments with the potential to preserve the historical record of past environmental exposures. While previous studies have leveraged this potential to examine environmental and biological phenomena in horns, Pb uptake has never been explored. Methods: Horns were collected post-mortem from three goats that had been previously used to produce blood lead reference materials for the New York State proficiency testing program. The animals were periodically dosed with lead acetate, administered orally in a capsule, over a 5 to 8-year period. Horn cross sections were taken from each animal and analyzed using synchrotron radiation-induced micro X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (SR-µXRF) at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS). Results: Elemental distribution maps were obtained by SR-µXRF for Pb, Ca, S, Se, and three other elements (Br, Zn and Cu), with values reported quantitatively as a mass fraction (µg/g for trace elements and mg/g for Ca and S). Accumulations of Pb were clearly visible as a series of narrow “rings” in each of the horn samples analyzed. The elements Ca, S, Br, Zn, and Cu were also detected as discrete rings within each cross-section, with Br strongly correlated with S in the samples examined. A marginal increase in Se may coincide with Pb accumulation in horn cross-sections. Annual mineralization estimates based on the relative distribution of Ca and S were used to establish a tentative timeline for horn growth, with each timeline linked to the pattern of Pb accumulation in the corresponding horn cross-section sample. Conclusions: Following ingestion, absorbed Pb is eventually deposited into caprine horns, resulting in discrete accumulations or “rings.” Elemental mapping by SR-µXRF clearly show Ca-rich layers that vary with annual periodicity, consistent with previous reports of horn mineralization. Localized enrichment of Cu, Zn, Br and S appear to coincide with the keratinized regions related to the annual growth ring pattern in horns. Spatial analysis of horns for Pb accumulation may be useful as a qualitative marker of time-resolved exposures that may reflect specific periods of acute Pb absorption. © 2019 Elsevier GmbH