Immunomodulatory Effects of Estradiol and Cadmium in Adult Female Rats

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A wide range of toxic effects has been associated with cadmium (Cd) exposure in mammals. However, the physiological factors that modulate these effects have received limited attention. We have previously demonstrated that neonatal exposure of rats to Cd during lactation results in sex-specific immunotoxic effects in both juvenile and adult rats. The objectives of this study were to determine the effects of 17β-estradiol (E2) on the immunotoxicity of Cd in female rats. We compared the effects of 28 days of exposure to 0, 5, and 25 ppm cadmium chloride (CdCl2) through drinking water on ovariectomized Sprague-Dawley rats and on ovariectomized rats with E2 implant which mimicked the physiological level of E2 in female rat. Our results clarify the control of important immune functions by E2 at physiological level and demonstrate significant interactions between Cd and E2 effects on the cytotoxic activity of natural killer cells and phagocytosis of splenic cells as well as on the total number of thymocytes and of the four subpopulations of the thymocytes as defined by the expression of the cell-surface markers CD4 and CD8. Cd and E2 share several mechanisms of action that may account for these interactions. The estrogenic potential of Cd could also account for some of the observed effects. These interactions have to be taken into consideration in evaluating the risk of Cd immunotoxicity and the possible interactions with hormonal treatments.

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