Human retinal cadmium accumulation as a factor in the etiology of age-related macular degeneration

N. K. Wills, N. Kalariya, V. M. Sadagopa Ramanujam, J. R. Lewis, S. Haji Abdollahi, A. Husain, F. J G M van Kuijk

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40 Scopus citations


Cadmium is a naturally occurring, highly toxic, metallic element. It pollutes the environment as a result of industrial activity and accumulates in human tissues with a long biological half-life. Cadmium content has been demonstrated to increase in human retinal tissues as a function of age and tobacco smokers have approximately twice as much cadmium in retinal tissues than non-smokers. Smoking is also a key environmental risk factor for the retinal disease age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Recent studies have shown that urinary cadmium levels (a measure of Cd body burden) are higher in smokers who have AMD. We now report the Cd measurements in human retinal tissues from eyes afflicted with AMD compared to non-diseased eyes (controls) from age-matched donors. Human donor eyes frozen under argon gas were assessed for AMD severity using color stereoscopic fundus photographs and the Minnesota Grading System. Cadmium, zinc and, copper levels were measured in retinal tissues (neural retina, retinal pigment epithelium and choroid) using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and graphite furnace spectrophotometry and values were normalized to tissue protein levels. Higher Cd levels were found in the neural retina and RPE for eyes afflicted with AMD compared to controls in males, differences were not statistically significant in females. The results indicate that higher retinal cadmium burdens are associated with the presence of AMD at least in males and suggest possible gender differences in the metabolism of metals in the human retina.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-87
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Eye Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 15 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank Dr. Daniel Freeman for his expert assistance with statistical power analysis. The research described in this article was supported by Philip Morris USA, Inc. and Philip Morris Internationals AMD Fund, and the University of Texas Medical Branch Human Nutrition Trace Metals Research Facility.


  • RPE
  • age-related macular degeneration
  • aging
  • cadmium
  • choroid
  • copper
  • gender
  • human
  • retina
  • zinc


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