Accumulation of cadmium in aquatic invertebrates may compromise human food safety and anthropogenic additions of cadmium to coastal areas cause concern. Induction of crustacean metallothionein has been suggested as a useful biomarker for contamination of the aquatic environment with cadmium. We investigated how exposure to low concentrations of cadmium in the food affects the subcellular binding of cadmium with the shore crab Carcinus maenas as model organism. Approximately 80% of the assimilated cadmium was bound in the soluble fraction of the midgut gland and of this, 82% was found in the metallothionein fraction. Metallothionein synthesis was only induced at the highest exposure level. However, the number of cadmium atoms bound per molecule of metallothionein increased linearly with exposure, from approximately 0.18 in the control group to 1.4 in a group administered food containing 5.1 μg Cd g(-1). We noted a marked interaction between the presence of copper and zinc in the midgut gland and the binding of cadmium. The usefulness of crustacean midgut gland metallothionein as a biomarker for cadmium exposure at modest levels was questioned since exposures at levels producing significant increases in the tissue contents of the metal did not result in elevated concentrations of metallothionein in the midgut gland.
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