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Environmental presence and human exposure to heavy metals in air and cigarette smoke has led to a worldwide increase in respiratory disease. The effects of oral exposure to heavy metals in liver and kidney structure and function have been widely investigated and the respiratory system as a target is often overlooked. The aim of the study was to investigate the possible structural changes in the lung tissue of Sprague-Dawley rats after oral exposure for 28 days to cadmium (Cd) and mercury (Hg), alone and in combination at 1000 times the World Health Organization's limit for each metal in drinking water. Following exposure, the general morphology of the bronchiole and lungs as well as collagen and elastin distribution was evaluated using histological techniques and transmission electron microscopy. In the lungs, structural changes to the alveoli included collapsed alveolar spaces, presence of inflammatory cells and thickening of the alveolar walls. In addition, exposure to Cd and Hg caused degeneration of the alveolar structures resulting in confluent alveoli. Changes in bronchiole morphology included an increase in smooth muscle mass with luminal epithelium degeneration, detachment and aggregation. Prominent bronchiole-associated lymphoid tissue was present in the group exposed to Cd and Hg. Ultrastructural examination confirmed the presence of fibrosis where in the Cd exposed group, collagen fibrils arrangement was dense, while in the Hg exposed group, additional prominent elastin was present. This study identified the lungs as target of heavy metals toxicity following oral exposure resulting in cellular damage, inflammation and fibrosis and increased risk of respiratory disease where Hg showed the greatest fibrotic effect, which was further, aggravated in combination with Cd.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Environmental toxicology and pharmacology
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