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Is cadmium exposure associated with the burden, vulnerability and rupture of human atherosclerotic plaques?

Journal article
Authors Göran Bergström
Björn Fagerberg
Gerd Sällsten
Thomas Lundh
Lars Barregård
Published in PloS one
Volume 10
Issue 3
Pages e0121240
ISSN 1932-6203
Publication year 2015
Published at Wallenberg Laboratory
Institute of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Section of Occupational and environmental medicine
Institute of Medicine, Department of Molecular and Clinical Medicine
Pages e0121240
Language en
Subject categories Cardiovascular medicine, Environmental medicine


The general population is exposed to cadmium from food and smoking. Cadmium is a widely spread toxic pollutant that seems to be associated with cardiovascular diseases, although little is known if it contributes to the occurrence of atherosclerotic plaques and the process whereby plaques become vulnerable and are prone to rupture. We tested the hypotheses that cadmium exposure is associated not only with an increased subclinical burden of atherosclerotic plaques in different vascular territories and early signs of plaque vulnerability, but also with cadmium content and plaque-rupture in the clinical phase of the disease. Ultrasound technique was used to measure plaque prevalence and echogenicity in the carotid and femoral arteries in a population sample of women (n = 599) in whom blood cadmium was measured. In addition cadmium was measured in snap-frozen endarterectomies and whole blood obtained from patients who were referred to surgery because of symptomatic carotid plaques (n = 37). Sixteen endarterectomies were divided into three parts corresponding to different flow conditions and plaque vulnerability. In the population sample blood cadmium was associated with the number of vascular territories with plaques (p = 0.003 after adjustment for potential confounders). The cadmium concentrations in symptomatic plaques were 50-fold higher in plaque tissue than in blood. Cadmium levels in blood and plaque correlated, also after adjustment for smoking and other cardiovascular risk factors (p<0.001). Compared with the other parts of the plaque, the cadmium content was double as high in the part where plaque rupture usually occurs. In conclusion, the results show that cadmium exposure is associated with the burden of subclinical atherosclerosis in middle-aged women with different degrees of glucose tolerance, and that the content of cadmium in symptomatic plaques in patients is related to that in blood, but much higher, and preferentially located in the part of plaque where rupture often occurs.

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