Cadmium accumulation in the human retina: Effects of age, gender, and cellular toxicity

N. K. Wills, V. M.Sadagopa Ramanujam, J. Chang, N. Kalariya, J. R. Lewis, T. X. Weng, F. J.G.M. van Kuijk

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    45 Scopus citations


    Tobacco smoking and aging are among the few factors linked to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a major cause of blindness in the elderly. Recent studies indicate that cadmium (Cd), an environmental toxic trace metal, is approximately four-fold higher in the retinas of smokers compared to non-smokers. In this study, we determined the effects of age and gender on Cd accumulation in human retinal tissues, specifically the neural retina, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), and choroid. Cadmium levels in cultured RPE cells or retinal tissues isolated from frozen donor eyes were measured using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrophotometry (GF-AAS). Cadmium uptake in cultured human RPE cells (ARPE-19) was also assessed using GF-AAS. Toxic effects of cadmium were determined from cell loss (measured as a decrease in cell density) and lactate dehydrogenase release (an indicator of membrane disruption). In "young" eyes (<55 years) Cd was highest in the retinal pigment epithelium and lowest in the neural retina. Cd was higher in all tissues in aged eyes (≥55 years) and was significantly higher in the neural retina and RPE in older females. Cultured RPE cells exposed to Cd showed altered cell morphology, decreased cell survival, elevated ROS levels and concentration-dependent disruption of membrane integrity. We conclude that cadmium is accumulated differently in the neural retinal and RPE of older men and women. The deleterious effects of Cd on RPE cells indicate that this environmental toxin is a potentially important factor in age-related retinal disease.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)41-51
    Number of pages11
    JournalExperimental Eye Research
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 2008


    • ARPE-19
    • aging
    • cadmium
    • choroid
    • graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrophotometry
    • human
    • inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry
    • membrane
    • neural retina
    • retinal pigment epithelium
    • women

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ophthalmology
    • Sensory Systems
    • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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