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Reprod Toxicol. 2008 Apr;25(3):304-15. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2008.02.001. Epub 2008 Feb 19.

Cadmium: toxic effects on the reproductive system and the embryo.

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School of Medicine and Medical Science, Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, University College Dublin, Ireland.


The heavy metal cadmium (Cd) is a pollutant associated with several modern industrial processes. Cd is absorbed in significant quantities from cigarette smoke, and is known to have numerous undesirable effects on health in both experimental animals and humans, targeting the kidneys, liver and vascular systems in particular. However, a wide spectrum of deleterious effects on the reproductive tissues and the developing embryo has also been described. In the testis, changes due to disruption of the blood-testis barrier and oxidative stress have been noted, with onset of widespread necrosis at higher dosage exposures. Incorporation of Cd into the chromatin of the developing gamete has also been demonstrated. Ovarian Cd concentration increases with age, and has been associated with failure of progression of oocyte development from primary to secondary stage, and failure to ovulate. A further mechanism by which ovulation could be rendered ineffective is by failure of pick-up of the oocyte by the tubal cilia due to suboptimal expansion of the oocyte-cumulus complex and mis-expression of cell adhesion molecules. Retardation of trophoblastic outgrowth and development, placental necrosis and suppression of steroid biosynthesis, and altered handling of nutrient metals by the placenta all contribute to implantation delay and possible early pregnancy loss. Cd has been shown to accumulate in embryos from the four-cell stage onwards, and higher dosage exposure inhibits progression to the blastocyst stage, and can cause degeneration and decompaction in blastocysts following formation, with apoptosis and breakdown in cell adhesion. Following implantation, exposure of experimental animals to oral or parenteral Cd causes a wide range of abnormalities in the embryo, depending on the stage of exposure and dose given. Craniofacial, neurological, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, and limb anomalies have all been described in placentates, with axial abnormalities and defects in somite structure noted in fish and ventral body wall defect and vertebral malformation occurring in the chick. In this paper, we examine the mechanisms by which Cd can affect reproductive health, and consider the use of micronutrients in prevention of these problems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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