Median lethal dose

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In toxicology, the median lethal dose, LD50 (abbreviation for “Lethal Dose, 50%”), LC50 (Lethal Concentration, 50%) or LCt50 (Lethal Concentration & Time) of a toxic substance or radiation is the dose required to kill half the members of a tested population after a specified test duration. LD50 figures are frequently used as a general indicator of a substance's acute toxicity. The test was created by J.W. Trevan in 1927.[1] It is being phased out in some jurisdictions in favor of tests such as the Fixed Dose Procedure;[2] however the concept, and calculation of the median lethal dose for comparison purposes, is still widely used.

As a measure of toxicity, LD50 is somewhat unreliable and results may vary greatly between testing facilities due to factors such as the genetic characteristics of the sample population, animal species tested, environmental factors and mode of administration.[3] Another weakness is that it measures acute toxicity only (as opposed to chronic toxicity at lower doses), and does not take into account toxic effects that do not result in death but are nonetheless serious (e.g. brain damage). There can be wide variability between species as well; what is relatively safe for rats may very well be extremely toxic for humans, and vice versa. In other words, a relatively high LD50 does not necessarily mean a substance is harmless, since its relative harmfulness depends on its usual dose, but a very low one is always a cause for concern.

The term semilethal dose is occasionally used with the same meaning, particularly in translations from non-English-language texts, but can also refer to a sublethal dose; because of this ambiguity, it is usually avoided.

Contents

Conventions

The LD50 is usually expressed as the mass of substance administered per unit mass of test subject, such as grams of substance per kilogram of body mass. Stating it this way allows the relative toxicity of different substances to be compared, and normalizes for the variation in the size of the animals exposed (although toxicity does not always scale simply with body mass). Typically, the LD50 of a substance is given in milligrams per kilogram of body weight. In the case of some neurotoxins such as batrachotoxin, one of the most deadly toxins known, the LD50 may be more conveniently expressed as micrograms per kilogram (µg/kg) or nanograms per kilogram (ng/kg) of body mass.

The choice of 50% lethality as a benchmark avoids the potential for ambiguity of making measurements in the extremes, and reduces the amount of testing required. However, this also means that LD50 is not the lethal dose for all subjects; some may be killed by much less, while others survive doses far higher than the LD50. Measures such as 'LD1' and 'LD99' (dosage required to kill 1% or 99% respectively of the test population) are occasionally used for specific purposes.[4]

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