Successive Onset of Molecular, Cellular and Tissue-Specific Responses in Midgut Gland of Littorina littorea Exposed to Sub-Lethal Cadmium Concentrations

Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Aug 22;18(8):1815. doi: 10.3390/ijms18081815.


Cadmium (Cd) is one of the most harmful metals, being toxic to most animal species, including marine invertebrates. Among marine gastropods, the periwinkle (Littorina littorea) in particular can accumulate high amounts of Cd in its midgut gland. In this organ, the metal can elicit extensive cytological and tissue-specific alterations that may reach, depending on the intensity of Cd exposure, from reversible lesions to pathological cellular disruptions. At the same time, Littorina littorea expresses a Cd-specific metallothionein (MT) that, due to its molecular features, expectedly exerts a protective function against the adverse intracellular effects of this metal. The aim of the present study was, therefore, to assess the time course of MT induction in the periwinkle's midgut gland on the one hand, and cellular and tissue-specific alterations in the digestive organ complex (midgut gland and digestive tract) on the other, upon exposure to sub-lethal Cd concentrations (0.25 and 1 mg Cd/L) over 21 days. Depending on the Cd concentrations applied, the beginning of alterations of the assessed parameters followed distinct concentration-dependent and time-dependent patterns, where the timeframe for the onset of the different response reactions became narrower at higher Cd concentrations compared to lower exposure concentrations.

Keywords: Littorina littorea; basophilic cells; connective tissue calcium cells; digestive cells; lipofuscin; lysosomes; metallothionein induction; midgut gland tubules.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cadmium / administration & dosage*
  • Cadmium / toxicity*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Connective Tissue / drug effects
  • Connective Tissue / metabolism
  • Connective Tissue / pathology
  • Digestive System Physiological Phenomena / drug effects*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Gastropoda / drug effects*
  • Gastropoda / physiology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Metallothionein / chemistry
  • Metallothionein / genetics
  • Metallothionein / metabolism
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide


  • Cadmium
  • Metallothionein
  • Calcium