• cell proliferation;
  • follicular alterations;
  • metallothionein expression;
  • ovarian follicle cells;
  • reptiles;
  • zona pellucida

The exposure to environmental toxicants such cadmium (Cd) is an important research area in wildlife protection. In this study, the effect of Cd oral administration on the ovarian structure and function and on reproductive performance of the Italian wall lizard Podarcis sicula was studied. In vivo, adult female lizards were randomly assigned to three groups. Cd was given with food in single dose and in multiple doses 3 days/week for 4 weeks at dose of 1.0 μg/g body weight. Following euthanasia, the ovaries were removed and analyzed for morpho-functional changes. Results demonstrated that Cd increases prefollicular germ cells number; the evaluation of the number of follicles detects significantly higher number of atretic growing follicles, whereas primary follicles remain unchanged with respect to controls. After Cd treatments, follicles are deformed by the presence of large protrusions and a general dysregulation in the follicle organization is observed. The zona pellucida is also affected. Cd causes alteration in sugar metabolism and in metallothionein gene expression. Finally, Cd administration significantly reduces clutch size and dramatically increases embryo mortality. In conclusion, data here described show that Cd induces morpho-functional alterations in lizard follicles and indicates that these are responsible for a significant impairment of oogenesis. The effects of the dose are time independent, persisting essentially unchanged regardless of single or multiple administration, so it can be concluded that even occasional, sublethal Cd contamination may significantly impair reproductive performance in these animals. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Environ Toxicol 28: 553–562, 2013.