The 20 rats were randomly divided into four groups: (i) control group, administrated with 0.1 ml PBS via the tail vein at the first day, (ii) Pb ion-treated group, administrated with 6.5 mg kg−1 d−1 lead nitrate for 5 days, (iii) free SOD-CAT group, administrated with 6.5 mg kg−1 d−1 lead nitrate for 5 days, 1.99 µg SOD and 2.47 µg CAT via the tail vein at the first day, and (iv) PLGA@SOD-CAT group, administrated with 6.5 mg kg−1 d−1 lead nitrate for 5 days and 0.1 ml PLGA@SOD-CAT (with SOD 19.87 µg ml−1, CAT 24.67 µg ml−1) via the tail vein at the first day.

The water maze consisted of an off-white circular pool (80 cm in diameter) with the upper part surrounded by a 40 cm-high Perspex wall and filled with water at 25 ± 1°C [29]. The circular pool was segmented into four quadrants and enclosed in a curtain. The motions caused by rats were recorded by a camera. The training procedure included four trials each day with four different starting positions from 16th to 20th day. In each trial, rats were allowed to find the escape platform from the centre of the southwest quadrant of the pool within 90 s. All rats were allowed to rest on the platform for 15–20 s after the platform was mounted. Thereafter, the rats were led to the platform and kept for 15 s. The hidden platform task (spatial reference memory) was performed on the 21st day. The escape latency, escape length, swimming speed and rounds at which the rats crossed the platform was recorded.

Besides, body weight, the ratio of brain/body weight, lead concentration in the blood and brain of different groups were obtained after 0, 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 days of the experiment.

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