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Cadmium (Cd) is a toxic, nonessential transition metal and contributes a health risk to humans, including various cancers and cardiovascular diseases; however, underlying molecular mechanisms remain largely unknown. Cells transmit information to the next generation via two distinct
ways: genetic and epigenetic. Chemical modifications to DNA or histone that alters the structure of chromatin without change of DNA nucleotide sequence are known as epigenetics. These heritable epigenetic changes include DNA methylation, post-translational modifications of histone tails (acetylation,
methylation, phosphorylation, etc), and higher order packaging of DNA around nucleosomes. Apart from DNA methyltransferases, histone modification enzymes such as histone acetyltransferase, histone deacetylase, and methyltransferase, and microRNAs (miRNAs) all involve in these epigenetic changes.
Recent studies indicate that Cd is able to induce various epigenetic changes in plant and mammalian cells in vitro and in vivo. Since aberrant epigenetics plays a critical role in the development of various cancers and chronic diseases, Cd may cause the above-mentioned pathogenic risks via
epigenetic mechanisms. Here we review the in vitro and in vivo evidence of epigenetic effects of Cd. The available findings indicate that epigenetics occurred in association with Cd induction of malignant transformation of cells and pathological proliferation of tissues, suggesting that epigenetic
effects may play a role in Cd toxic, particularly carcinogenic effects. The future of environmental epigenomic research on Cd should include the role of epigenetics in determining long-term and late-onset health effects following Cd exposure.
Department of Pathophysiology, Norman Bethune College of Medicine, Jilin University, Changchun, China.
Publication date: June 1, 2012
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