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Toxicology. 2005 May 5;209(3):289-301.

Sex-specific effects of neonatal exposures to low levels of cadmium through maternal milk on development and immune functions of juvenile and adult rats.

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INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier, Université du Québec, 245 Hymus Boulevard, Pointe-Claire, Que., Canada H9R 1G6.


Cadmium (Cd) is a major environmental contaminant. Although immunotoxic effects have been associated with Cd exposure, the inconsistency of experimental results underlines the need of an experimental approach more closely related to environmental conditions. We investigated the effects of exposing neonatal Sprague-Dawley rats to environmentally relevant doses of Cd through maternal milk. Dams received 10 parts per billion (ppb) or 5 parts per million (ppm) Cd chloride (CdCl2) in drinking water from parturition until the weaning of the pups. Half of the offspring was sampled at weaning time. The remaining juvenile rats received water without addition of Cd until adulthood. Cd accumulation in kidneys of juvenile rats fed from dams exposed to Cd indicated the transfer of the metal from mother to pups through maternal milk. This neonatal exposure resulted in decreased body, kidney and spleen weights of just weaned females but not of males. This effect was more pronounced in the less exposed females fed from dams exposed to 10 ppb Cd, which also displayed lower hepatic metallothionein-1 (MT-1) mRNA levels. The effect of Cd exposure on body and organ weights did not persist to adulthood. In contrast, we observed gender-specific effects of neonatal Cd exposure on the cytotoxic activity of splenic NK-cells of both juvenile and adult rats. Cd also strongly inhibited the proliferative response of Con A-stimulated thymocytes in both male and female adult rats 5 weeks after the cessation of Cd exposure. These immunotoxic effects were observed at doses much lower than those reported to produce similar effects when exposure occurred during adulthood. In conclusion, neonatal exposures to environmentally relevant levels of Cd through maternal milk represent a critical hazard liable to lead to both transitory and persistent immunotoxic effects.

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