Melatonin prevents the estrogenic effects of sub-chronic administration of cadmium on mice mammary glands and uterus


Address reprint requests to M.D. Mediavilla, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, School of Medicine, University of Cantabria, 39011 Santander, Spain.


Abstract:  Cadmium (Cd) is a heavy metal classified as a human carcinogen. Occupational exposure, dietary consumption and cigarette smoking are sources of Cd contamination. Cd-induced carcinogenicity depends on its oxidative and estrogenic actions. A possible role of Cd in breast cancer etiology has been recently suggested. Melatonin, because of its antioxidant and antiestrogenic properties could counteract the toxic effects of this metalloestrogen. Our aim was both to determine the effects of relevant doses of Cd on mice mammary glands and uterus and to test whether melatonin would counteract its effects. Female mice of different ages and estrogenic status (prepuberal, adult intact, adult ovariectomized) were treated with CdCl2 (2–3 mg/kg, i.p.), melatonin (10 μg/mL in drinking water), CdCl2 + melatonin, or diluents. Whereas in prepuberal animals Cd disturbs mammary ductal growth and reduces the number of terminal end buds, in adults, regardless of the steroidal milieu, Cd exerts estrogenic effects on mammary glands, increasing lobuloalveolar development and ductal branching. Uterine weight also increased as a result of Cd treatment. The effects of Cd are partially inhibited by melatonin. In adult ovariectomized mice, Cd concentration in blood of animals treated with CdCl2 + melatonin was lower than in mice receiving only Cd; the opposite effects were found in non-castrated animals. As Cd mimics the effect of estrogens, the high incidence of breast cancer in tobacco smokers and women working in industries related with Cd could be explained because of the properties of this metal. The effects of melatonin point to a possible role of this indoleamine as a preventive agent for environmental or occupational Cd contamination.