Prenatal exposure to the highly toxic and common pollutant cadmium has been associated with adverse effects on child health and development. However, the underlying biological mechanisms of cadmium toxicity remain partially unsolved. Epigenetic disruption due to early cadmium exposure has gained attention as a plausible mode of action, since epigenetic signatures respond to environmental stimuli and the fetus undergoes drastic epigenomic rearrangements during embryogenesis. In the current review, we provide a critical examination of the literature addressing prenatal cadmium exposure and epigenetic effects in human, animal, and in vitro studies. We conducted a PubMed search and obtained eight recent studies addressing this topic, focusing almost exclusively on DNA methylation. These studies provide evidence that cadmium alters epigenetic signatures in the DNA of the placenta and of the newborns, and some studies indicated marked sexual differences for cadmium-related DNA methylation changes. Associations between early cadmium exposure and DNA methylation might reflect interference with de novo DNA methyltransferases. More studies, especially those including environmentally relevant doses, are needed to confirm the toxicoepigenomic effects of prenatal cadmium exposure and how that relates to the observed health effects of cadmium in childhood and later life.
Keywords: Cadmium; DNA methylation; DNA methyltransferase; Early life; Metal; Placenta; Prenatal.