Kidney dysfunction and cadmium exposure - Factors influencing dose-response relationships

Gunnar Nordberg, Taiyi Jin, Xunwei Wu, Jian Lu, Liang Chen, Yihuai Liang, Lijian Lei, Feng Hong, Ingvar A. Bergdahl, Monica Nordberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Our early toxicological studies showed that metallothionein (MT) is a protein that carries cadmium (Cd) to the kidney, explaining why Cd exposures during long time periods may give rise to kidney dysfunction. This dysfunction is usually considered to be the critical effect, i.e. the adverse effect that occurs at the lowest exposure level. MT also provides intracellular protection against cadmium toxicity. In studies of population groups in cadmium contaminated areas in China, we investigated factors that affected the relationship between internal dose of Cd, as indicated by blood Cd (BCd) or urinary Cd (UCd), and the prevalence of kidney dysfunction. We found dose-response relationships between UCd and the prevalence of increased levels of biomarkers of renal tubular dysfunction (urinary beta-2-microglobulin, B2M, or N-acetyl-beta-d-glucosaminidase - NAG) or urinary albumin (UAlb), a biomarker of glomerular kidney dysfunction. Two years after Cd intake from contaminated rice was diminished, renal tubular dysfunction appeared unchanged or aggravated among those with higher UCd; Another 8. years later, i.e. 10. years after Cd intake was decreased, the prevalence of renal tubular dysfunction was still increased but UAlb had returned to normal. Factors that influenced the dose-response relationships were: (1) time after maximum exposure. (2) Concomitant exposure to other nephrotoxic agents such as inorganic arsenic. (3) Cd induced metallothionein mRNA levels in peripheral blood lymphocytes, used as a biomarker of the ability of each person, to synthesize MT. (4) The occurrence of increased levels in blood plasma of autoantibodies against MT. The two last points further support a role in humans of MT as a protective protein against tissue damage from cadmium and gives support to previous ideas developed partly in experimental systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-200
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cadmium
  • Human health effects
  • Kidney
  • Metallothionein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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