Chronic low-level cadmium exposure in rats affects cytokine production by activated T cells
Cadmium is a toxic metal and common environmental contaminant. Chronic cadmium exposure results in kidney, bone, reproductive, and immune toxicity as well as cancer. Cadmium induces splenomegaly and affects the adaptive immune system, but specific effects vary depending on the dose, model, and endpoint. This study investigates the effects of subchronic, oral, and low-dose cadmium exposure (32 ppm cadmium chloride in drinking water for 10 weeks) on the rat immune system, focusing on T cell function. Cadmium-exposed animals demonstrated slight increases in the spleen-to-body weight ratios, and decreases in overall splenic cell numbers and markers of oxidative stress. The relative ratios of splenic cell populations remained similar, except for modest increases in regulatory T cells in the cadmium-exposed animals. Cadmium exposure also significantly increased the production of IFNγ, a pro-inflammatory cytokine, and IL-10, a cytokine produced by multiple T cell subsets that typically inhibits IFNγ expression, by activated T cells. The increase in IFNγ and IL-10 suggests that cadmium exposure may affect multiple T cell subsets. Collectively, this study suggests that subchronic, low-dose cadmium exposure impacts both immune cell function and cellularity, and may enhance inflammatory responses.