Grand rounds: Could occupational exposure to n-hexane and other solvents precipitate visual failure in Leber hereditary optic neuropathy?

Valerio Carelli, Flavia Franceschini, Silvia Venturi, Piero Barboni, Giacomo Savini, Giuseppe Barbieri, Ettore Pirro, Chiara La Morgia, Maria L. Valentino, Francesca Zanardi, Francesco S. Violante, Stefano Mattioli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context: Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) is a maternally inherited loss of central vision related to pathogenic mutations in the mitochondrial genome, which are a necessary but not sufficient condition to develop the disease. Investigation of precipitating environmental/ occupational (and additional genetic) factors could be relevant for prevention. Case Presentation: After a 6-month period of occupational exposure to n-hexane and other organic solvents, a 27-year-old man (a moderate smoker) developed an optic neuropathy. The patient had a full ophthalmologic and neurologic investigation, including standardized cycloergometer test for serum lactic acid levels and a skeletal muscle biopsy. His exposure history was also detailed, and he underwent genetic testing for LHON mitochondrial DNA mutations. The patient suffered a sequential optic neuropathy with the hallmarks of LHON and tested positive for the homoplasmic 11778G → A/ND4 mutation. Routine laboratory monitoring revealed increased concentrations of urinary 2.5 hexandione (n-hexane metabolite) and hippuric acid (toluene metabolite) in the period immediately preceding the visual loss. Discussion: In a subject carrying an LHON mutation, the strict temporal sequence of prolonged appreciable occupational exposure followed by sudden onset of visual loss must raise a suspicion of causality (with a possible further interaction with tobacco smoke). Relevance: In this article, we add to the candidate occupational/ environmental triggers of LHON and highlight the need for appropriate case-control (and laboratory) studies to validate the causal effect of mixed toxic exposures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-115
Number of pages3
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2007


  • Environmental trigger
  • Leber hereditary optic neuropathy
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • n-hexane
  • Neurotoxin
  • Occupational exposure
  • Solvents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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