Toxicology

Toxicology is the study of the 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.

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).

See also: in vitro toxicology, pollution

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