Background: Cadmium, a common food pollutant, alters DNA methylation in vitro. Epigenetic effects might therefore partly explain cadmium's toxicity, including its carcinogenicity; however, human data on epigenetic effects are lacking.
Objective: We evaluated the effects of dietary cadmium exposure on DNA methylation, considering other environmental exposures, genetic predisposition, and gene expression.
Methods: Concentrations of cadmium, arsenic, selenium, and zinc in blood and urine of nonsmoking women (n = 202) from the northern Argentinean Andes were measured by inductively coupled mass spectrometry. Methylation in CpG islands of LINE-1 (long interspersed nuclear element-1; a proxy for global DNA methylation) and promoter regions of p16 [cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2A (CDKN2A)] and MLH1 (mutL homolog 1) in peripheral blood were measured by bisulfite polymerase chain reaction pyrosequencing. Genotyping (n = 172) for the DNA (cytosine-5-)-methyltransferase 1 gene (DNMT1 rs10854076 and rs2228611) and DNA (cytosine-5-)-methyltransferase 3 beta gene (DNMT3B rs2424913 and rs2424932) was performed with Sequenom iPLEX GOLD SNP genotyping; and gene expression (n = 90), with DirectHyb HumanHT-12 (version 3.0).
Results: Cadmium exposure was low: median concentrations in blood and urine were 0.36 and 0.23 µg/L, respectively. Urinary cadmium (natural log transformed) was inversely associated with LINE-1 methylation (β = -0.50, p = 0.0070; β = -0.44, p = 0.026, adjusted for age and coca chewing) but not with p16 or MLH1 methylation. Both DNMT1 rs10854076 and DNMT1 rs2228611 polymorphisms modified associations between urinary cadmium and LINE-1 (p-values for interaction in adjusted models were 0.045 and 0.064, respectively). The rare genotypes demonstrated stronger hypomethylation with increasing urinary cadmium concentrations. Cadmium was inversely associated with DNMT3B (r(S) = -0.28, p = 0.0086) but not with DNMT1 expression (r(S) = -0.075, p = 0.48).
Conclusion: Environmental cadmium exposure was associated with DNA hypomethylation in peripheral blood, and DNMT1 genotypes modified this association. The role of epigenetic modifications in cadmium-associated diseases needs clarification.