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Levels of non-essential trace metals and their impact on placental health: a review


According to recent research, even low levels of environmental chemicals, particularly heavy metals, can considerably disrupt placental homeostasis. This review aims to explore the profile of non-essential trace metals in placental tissues across the globe and to specify trace metal(s) that can be candidates for impaired placental health. Accordingly, we conducted an extensive survey on relevant databases of peer-reviewed papers published in the last two decades. Among a considerable number of non-essential trace metals, arsenic (As), lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), and mercury (Hg) were identified as the most detrimental to placental health. Comparative analysis showed remarkable differences in placental levels of these trace metals worldwide. Based on current data reported across the globe, a median (min–max) range from 0.55 to 15 ng/g for placental As levels could be deemed safe. The placental Cd and Pb levels were markedly higher in smokers than in non-smokers. Occupationally exposed pregnant women had several orders of magnitude higher Cd, Pb, and Hg levels in placental tissues than non-occupationally exposed women. Also, we concluded that even low-level exposure to As, Cd, Pb, and Hg could be deleterious to proper fetal development. This review implies the need to reduce exposure to non-essential trace metals to preserve placental health and prevent numerous poor pregnancy outcomes. Overall, the information presented is expected to help plan future fundamental and applied investigations on the placental toxicity of As, Cd, Pb, and Hg.

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This research was financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia, Contract Number: 451-03-68/2022-14/200288.

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A.S., M.P., A.N., Ž.M., and D.M. participated in writing through reviewing and editing. All the authors contributed critically to the draft and gave final approval for publication.

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Correspondence to Aleksandar Stojsavljević.

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Stojsavljević, A., Perović, M., Nešić, A. et al. Levels of non-essential trace metals and their impact on placental health: a review. Environ Sci Pollut Res 29, 43662–43674 (2022).

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  • Non-essential trace metal
  • Placenta
  • Environment
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoker
  • Cigarette smoking