Researchers from The University of Queensland, and their colleagues from the University of Adelaide and La Trobe University, have uncovered how the metal cadmium, which is accumulating in the food chain, causes toxicity in living cells.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the research shows how cadmium disrupts the transport of the essential metals manganese and zinc into and out of cells.

Professor Bostjan Kobe, from the UQ School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences (SCMB), led the UQ component of the research.

“Once in the cell, cadmium causes a malfunction within the cell’s machinery, which eventually leads to cell death,” Professor Kobe said.

Using a technique called crystallography, Professor Kobe, UQ PhD student Zhenyao Luo and colleagues from SCMB, were able to determine the three‑dimensional shape of cadmium bound to the protein which helps the metal get inside the cell.

Our structural work showed us how cadmium can trick the protein machinery into thinking it is binding manganese,” Professor Kobe said.

“Cadmium is used widely in electronics industry, for example in nickel-cadmium batteries, and can get into the environment through industrial waste.

“But because cadmium is almost never used by living organisms, cells have not evolved the means to handle it.”

The findings of this research have opened the way for the development of new therapies for preventing cadmium toxicity.

More information regarding this research can be found here.

Image: Three-dimensional shape of cadmium (black ball) bound to the protein from the bacterial protein that helps the organism scavenge the metal. (Image courtesy of Zhenyao Luo)


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