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Project: Mechanisms of metal toxicity early in life

We study mechanisms of metal toxicity, where we focus mainly on oxidative stress, epigenetic alterations, and hormone-related effects, following early-life exposure. Many toxic metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead, have been shown to be potent inducers of oxidative stress. Epigenetic alterations may explain why early-life exposure to metals, especially prenatally, seems to cause diseases later in life. Moreover, it has been suggested that several metals can cause endocrine disruption. For example, experimental studies have suggested that cadmium can interact with both estrogens and androgens, but if cadmium can affect the hormone systems, which are crucial for early in life development, remains to be elucidated. The placenta is the key mediator as it receives and transmits endocrine signals between the mother and her fetus. Cadmium accumulates in the placenta during pregnancy with only a small fraction passing over to the fetus. Our hypothesis is that this disrupts hormonal signaling between the mother and her fetus, which may results in impaired fetal growth and neurodevelopment during childhood. We are currently focusing on three hormonal systems – glucocorticoids, insulin-like growth factors (IGFs), and thyroid hormones (THs), all of which are fundamental for normal fetal development. The studies are mainly done using placental tissue collected within the mother-child cohorts in Bangladesh and Argentina, in combination with in vitro studies. We are also conducting epidemiological studies where we measure the children’s prenatal and concurrent toxic exposures and the above mentioned hormones in urine or plasma.

Contact persons

Maria Kippler and Annachiara Malin Igra


  • Swedish research Council
  • Swedish research Council Formas
  • Karolinska Institutet

Selected publications


Prenatal lead exposure is associated with decreased cord blood DNA methylation of the glycoprotein VI gene involved in platelet activation and thrombus formation.
Engström K, Rydbeck F, Kippler M, Wojdacz T, El Arifeen S, Vahter M, Broberg K. 2016.
Accepted in Environ Epigenetics.