Toxicology (from the Greek words toxicon and logos) is the study of the adverse effects of chemicals on living organisms. It is the study of symptoms, mechanisms, treatments and detection of biological poisoning, especially the poisoning of people. The chief criterion regarding the toxicity of a chemical is the dose, i.e. the amount of exposure to the substance. It's safe to say that almost all substances are toxic under the right conditions. As Paracelsus, the father of modern toxicology said, "dose determines the poison". Paracelsus, who lived in the 16th century was the first person to explain the dose response relationship of toxic substances.

Many substances regarded as poisons are toxic only indirectly. An example is "wood alcohol" or methanol, which is not poisonous itself, but is chemically converted to toxic formaldehyde in the liver. Many drug molecules are made toxic in the liver, a good example being acetaminophen (paracetamol), especially in the presence of alcohol. The genetic variability of certain liver enzymes makes the toxicity of many compounds differ between one individual and the next. Because demands placed on one liver enzyme can induce activity in another, many molecules become toxic only in combination with others. A family of activities that engages many toxicologists includes identifying which liver enzymes convert a molecule into a poison, what are the toxic products of the conversion and under what conditions and in which individuals this conversion takes place.

The term LD50 refers to the dose of a toxic substance that kills 50 percent of a test population (typically rats or other surrogates when the test concerns human toxicity). LD50 estimations in animals became obsolete in 1991 and are no longer required for regulatory submissions as a part of pre-clinical development package.

The term Multiple chemical sensitivity is a controversial diagnosis indicating that a person suffers from allergy symptoms caused by trace amounts of environmental chemicals.

Mathieu Orfila is considered to be the father of toxicology, having given the subject its first formal treatment in 1813 in his Trait des poisons, also called Toxicologie generate.

The term toxicology should not be confused with the term toxinology. Toxinology is the specialized area of toxicology that deals specifically with biological toxins, such as venoms or poisonous plants.


  • Amdur MO, Doull J, Klaassen, CD. 1993. Cassarett and Doull's Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Lewis M. Gash MD

External links

See also

es:Toxicología nl:Toxicologie ja:毒性学 lt:Toksikologija pl:Toksykologia pt:Toxicologia tr:Toksikoloji


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