Median lethal dose: Wikis


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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, 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.



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)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]

Lethal dosage often varies depending on the method of administration; for instance, many substances are less toxic when administered orally than when intravenously administered. For this reason, LD50 figures are often qualified with the mode of administration, e.g. "LD50 i.v."

The related quantities LD50/30 or an LD50/60 are used to refer to a dose that without treatment will be lethal to 50% of the population within (respectively) 30 or 60 days. These measures are used more commonly within Radiation Health Physics, as survival beyond 60 days usually results in recovery.

A comparable measurement is LCt50 which relates to lethal dosage from exposure, where C is concentration and t is time. It is often expressed in terms of mg-min/m³. ICt50 is the dose which will cause incapacitation rather than death. These measures are commonly used to indicate the comparative efficacy of chemical warfare agents, and dosages are typically qualified by rates of breathing (e.g., resting = 10 l/min) for inhalation, or degree of clothing for skin penetration. The concept of Ct was first proposed by Fritz Haber, and is sometimes referred to as Haber's Law, which assumes that exposure to 1 minute of 100 mg/m³ is equivalent to 10 minutes of 10 mg/m³ (1 × 100 = 100, as does 10 × 10 = 100).

Some chemicals, such as hydrogen cyanide are rapidly detoxified by the human body, and do not follow Haber's Law. So in these cases the lethal concentration may be given simply as LC50 and qualified by a duration of exposure (e.g. 10 minutes). The Material Safety Data Sheets for toxic substances frequently use this form of the term even if the substance does follow Haber's Law.

For disease-causing organisms, there is also a measure known as the median infective dose and dosage. The median infective dose (ID50) is the number of organisms received by a person or test animal qualified by the route of administration (e.g., 1,200 org/man per oral). Because of the difficulties in counting actual organisms in a dose, infective doses may be expressed in terms of biological assay, such as the number of LD50's to some test animal. In biological warfare infective dosage is the number of infective doses per minute for a cubic meter (e.g., ICt50 is 100 medium doses - min/m³).

Animal rights concerns

Animal-rights and animal-welfare groups, such as Animal Rights International,[5] have campaigned against LD50 testing on animals in particular as, in the case of some substances, causing the animals to die slow, painful deaths. Several countries, including the UK, have taken steps to ban the oral LD50, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) abolished the requirement for the oral test in 2001 (see Test Guideline 401, Trends in Pharmacological Sciences Vol 22, February 22, 2001).

LD50 still remains popular, despite its general weakness in providing a useful measure of toxicity.[3]


Substance Animal, Route LD50 Reference
Sucrose (table sugar) rat, oral 29,700 mg/kg [6]
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) rat, oral 11,900 mg/kg [7]
cadmium sulfide rat, oral 7,080 mg/kg [8]
Grain alcohol (ethanol) rat, oral 7,060 mg/kg [9]
Sodium molybdate rat, oral 4,000 mg/kg [10]
Table Salt rat, oral 3,000 mg/kg [11]
Paracetamol (acetaminophen) rat, oral 1,944 mg/kg [12]
Metallic Arsenic rat, oral 763 mg/kg [13]
THC (main psychoactive substance in Cannabis) rat, oral 1,270 mg/kg males; 730 mg/kg females [14]
Coumarin (benzopyrone, from Cinnamomum aromaticum and other plants) rat, oral 293 mg/kg [15]
Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) rat, oral 200 mg/kg [16]
Caffeine rat, oral 192 mg/kg [17]
Arsenic trisulfide rat, oral 185 mg/kg - 6400 mg/kg [18]
Sodium nitrite rat, oral 180 mg/kg [19]
Cobalt(II) chloride rat, oral 80 mg/kg [20]
Cadmium oxide rat, oral 72 mg/kg [21]
Nicotine rat, oral 50 mg/kg [22]
Strychnine rat, oral 16 mg/kg [23]
Arsenic trioxide rat, oral 14 mg/kg [24]
Metallic Arsenic rat, intraperitoneal 13 mg/kg [25]
Sodium cyanide rat, oral 6.4 mg/kg [26]
White phosphorus rat, oral 3.03 mg/kg [27]
Mercury(II) chloride rat, oral 1 mg/kg [28]
Beryllium oxide rat, oral 0.5 mg/kg [29]
Aflatoxin B1 (from Aspergillus flavus) rat, oral 0.048 mg/kg [30]
Venom of the Inland taipan (Australian snake) rat, subcutaneous 0.025 mg/kg [31]
Dioxin (TCDD) rat, oral 0.020 mg/kg [32]
VX (nerve agent) human, oral 0.0023 mg/kg (estimated) [33]
Batrachotoxin (from poison dart frog) human, sub-cutaneous injection 0.002-0.007 mg/kg (estimated) [34]
Polonium-210 human, inhalation 0.00001 mg/kg (estimated) [35]
Botulinum toxin (Botox) human, oral, injection 0.000001 mg/kg (estimated) [36]
Substance Animal, Route LC50 Reference
Alkyl dimethyl benzalkonium chloride (ADBAC) fish, immersion 280 μg/L [37]

See also

Other measures of toxicity

Related measures

  • TCID50 Tissue Culture Infective Dosage
  • EID50 Egg Infective Dosage
  • ELD50 Egg Lethal Dosage
  • Plaque forming units (pfu)


  1. ^ What is an LD50 and LC50
  2. ^ LD50 test ban welcomed
  3. ^ a b Ernest Hodgson - A Textbook of Modern Toxicology; Wiley-Interscience 2004 (3rd Edition)
  5. ^ Thirty-Two Years of Measurable Change
  6. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for sucrose
  7. ^ "Safety (MSDS) data for ascorbic acid". Oxford University. 2005-10-09. Retrieved 2007-02-21. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for ethyl alcohol
  10. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for sodium molybdate
  11. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for sodium chloride
  12. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for 4-acetamidophenol
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ THC Material Data Sheet
  15. ^ Coumarin Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
  16. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for acetylsalicylic acid
  17. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for caffeine
  18. ^ [2]
  19. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for sodium nitrite
  20. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for cobalt (II) chloride
  21. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for cadmium oxide
  22. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for nicotine
  23. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for strychnine
  24. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for arsenic trioxide
  25. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for metallic arsenic
  26. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for sodium cyanide
  27. ^ [3]
  28. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for mercury (II) chloride
  29. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for beryllium oxide
  30. ^ Safety (MSDS) data for aflatoxin B1
  31. ^ [4]
  32. ^ U.S. National Toxicology Program acute toxicity studies for Dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD)
  33. ^ Toxicity of the Organophosphate Chemical Warfare Agents GA, GB, and VX: Implications for Public Protection
  34. ^ Brief Review of Natural Nonprotein Neurotoxins
  35. ^ Topic 2 Toxic Chemicals and Toxic Effects
  36. ^ By Diane O. Fleming, Debra Long Hunt. Biological Safety: principles and practices. ASM Press, 2000, p. 267.
  37. ^ (August 2006) Reregistration Eligibility Decision for Alkyl Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride (ADBAC) . U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, 114. (Report). Retrieved on 2009-03-31.

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