Blood Transcriptome Response to Environmental Metal Exposure Reveals Potential Biological Processes Related to Alzheimer's Disease

Julian Krauskopf*, Ingvar A. Bergdahl, Anders Johansson, Domenico Palli, Thomas Lundh, Soterios A. Kyrtopoulos, Theo M. de Kok, Jos C. Kleinjans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Web of Science)


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease which is manifested by a progressive and irreversible decline of cognition, memory loss, a shortened attention span, and changes in personality. Aging and genetic pre-dispositions, particularly the presence of a specific form of apolipoprotein E (APOE), are main risk factors of sporadic AD; however, a large body of evidence has shown that multiple environmental factors, including exposure to toxic metals, increase the risk for late onset AD. Lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) are ubiquitous toxic metals with a wide range of applications resulting in global distribution in the environment and exposure of all living organisms on earth. In addition to being classified as carcinogenic (Cd) and possibly carcinogenic (Pb) to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, both compounds disrupt metal homeostasis and can cause toxic responses at the cellular and organismal levels. Pb toxicity targets the central nervous system and evidence for that has emerged also for Cd. Recent epidemiological studies show that both metals possibly are etiological factors of multiple neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease (AD). To further explore the association between metal exposure and AD risk we applied whole transcriptome gene expression analysis in peripheral blood leukocytes (PBLs) from 632 subjects of the general population, taken from the EnviroGenomarkers project. We used linear mixed effect models to associate metal exposure to gene expression after adjustment for gender, age, BMI, smoking, and alcohol consumption. For Pb exposure only few associations were identified, including a downregulation of the human eukaryotic translation initiation factor 5 (eIF5). In contrast, Cd exposure, particularly in males, revealed a much stronger transcriptomic response, featuring multiple pathways related to pathomolecular mechanisms of AD, such as endocytosis, neutrophil degranulation, and Interleukin-7 signaling. A gender stratified analysis revealed that the Cd responses were male-specific and included a downregulation of the APOE gene in men. This exploratory study revealed novel hypothetical findings which might contribute to the understanding of the neurotoxic effects of chronic Pb and Cd exposure and possibly improve our knowledge on the molecular mechanisms linking metal exposure to AD risk.

Original languageEnglish
Article number557587
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2020


  • Alzheimer&apos
  • s disease
  • metals
  • gene expression
  • transcriptomics
  • microarray
  • APOE
  • TAU

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