Hormesis: A Highly Generalizable and Reproducible Phenomenon With Important Implications for Risk Assessment

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Abstract

From a comprehensive search of the literature, the hormesis phenomenon was found to occur over a wide range of chemicals, taxonomic groups, and endpoints. By use of computer searches and extensive cross-referencing, nearly 3000 potentially relevant articles were identified. Evidence of chemical and radiation hormesis was judged to have occurred in approximately 1000 of these by use of a priori criteria. These criteria included study design features (e.g., number of doses, dose range), dose–response relationship, statistical analysis, and reproducibility of results. Numerous biological endpoints were assessed, with growth responses the most prevalent, followed by metabolic effects, reproductive responses, longevity, and cancer. Hormetic responses were generally observed to be of limited magnitude with an average maximum stimulation of 30 to 60 percent over that of the controls. This maximum usually occurred 4- to 5-fold below the NOAEL for a particular endpoint. The present analysis suggests that hormesis is a reproducible and generalizable biological phenomenon and is a fundamental component of many, if not most, dose–response relationships. The relatively infrequent observation of hormesis in the literature is believed to be due primarily to experimental design considerations, especially with respect to the number and range of doses and endpoint selection. Because of regulatory considerations, most toxicologic studies have been carried out at high doses above the low-dose region where the hormesis phenomenon occurs.

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