Maternal exposure to cadmium during gestation perturbs the vascular system of the adult rat offspring


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Abstract

Several cardiovascular diseases (CVD) observed in adulthood have been associated with environmental influences during fetal growth. Here, we show that maternal exposure to cadmium, a ubiquitously distributed heavy metal and main component of cigarette smoke is able to induce cardiovascular morpho-functional changes in the offspring at adult age. Heart morphology and vascular reactivity were evaluated in the adult offspring of rats exposed to 30 ppm of cadmium during pregnancy. Echocardiographic examination shows altered heart morphology characterized by a concentric left ventricular hypertrophy. Also, we observed a reduced endothelium-dependent reactivity in isolated aortic rings of adult offspring, while endothelium-independent reactivity remained unaltered. These effects were associated with an increase of hem-oxygenase 1 (HO-1) expression in the aortas of adult offspring. The expression of HO-1 was higher in females than males, a finding likely related to the sex-dependent expression of the vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1), which was lower in the adult female. All these long-term consequences were observed along with normal birth weights and absence of detectable levels of cadmium in fetal and adult tissues of the offspring. In placental tissues however, cadmium levels were detected and correlated with increased NF-κB expression – a transcription factor sensitive to inflammation and oxidative stress – suggesting a placentary mechanism that affect genes related to the development of the cardiovascular system.Our results provide, for the first time, direct experimental evidence supporting that exposure to cadmium during pregnancy reprograms cardiovascular development of the offspring which in turn may conduce to a long term increased risk of CVD.

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