Maternal cadmium, iron and zinc levels, DNA methylation and birth weight

Adriana C. Vidal, Viktoriya Semenova, Thomas Darrah, Avner Vengosh, Zhiqing Huang, Katherine King, Monica D. Nye, Rebecca Fry, David Skaar, Rachel Maguire, Amy Murtha, Joellen Schildkraut, Susan Murphy, Cathrine Hoyo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Background: Cadmium (Cd) is a ubiquitous and environmentally persistent toxic metal that has been implicated in neurotoxicity, carcinogenesis and obesity and essential metals including zinc (Zn) and iron (Fe) may alter these outcomes. However mechanisms underlying these relationships remain limited. Methods: We examined whether maternal Cd levels during early pregnancy were associated with offspring DNA methylation at regulatory sequences of genomically imprinted genes and weight at birth, and whether Fe and Zn altered these associations. Cd, Fe and Zn were measured in maternal blood of 319 women ≤12 weeks gestation. Offspring umbilical cord blood leukocyte DNA methylation at regulatory differentially methylated regions (DMRs) of 8 imprinted genes was measured using bisulfite pyrosequencing. Regression models were used to examine the relationships among Cd, Fe, Zn, and DMR methylation and birth weight. Results: Elevated maternal blood Cd levels were associated with lower birth weight (p = 0.03). Higher maternal blood Cd levels were also associated with lower offspring methylation at the PEG3 DMR in females (β = 0.55, se = 0.17, p = 0.05), and at the MEG3 DMR in males (β = 0.72, se = 0.3, p = 0.08), however the latter association was not statistically significant. Associations between Cd and PEG3 and PLAGL1 DNA methylation were stronger in infants born to women with low concentrations of Fe (p < 0.05). Conclusions: Our data suggest the association between pre-natal Cd and offspring DNA methylation at regulatory sequences of imprinted genes may be sex- and gene-specific. Essential metals such as Zn may mitigate DNA methylation response to Cd exposure. Larger studies are required.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20
JournalBMC pharmacology &amp; toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Cadmium
  • Epigenetics
  • Genomic imprinting
  • Obesity
  • Pediatrics
  • Zinc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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