The effects of methylmercury chloride (MMC) on the degenerative changes in rat brain and cranial nerves were studied. Twelve Wistar rats were divided into two equal groups. The rat model of methylmercury intoxication (MMC group) was made by subcutaneously administering 10 mg mercury/g body weight daily for 7 days. Control group rats were infused with the same amount of normal saline during this period. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measurements were performed before and 14 days after the first MMC administration, using a 4.7-T MR system. No significant focal changes were observed on T1- and T2-weighted MR images regarding the internal structures of the brains of the MMC-intoxicated rats, atrophy of the cerebellum, and dilatation of the arachnoid space around the brain stem of MMC-treated rats, but were demonstrated without edematous change. The apparent diffusion coefficients (ADC) of the cortex, caudate-putamen, and trigeminal nerve were not significantly different between the MMC-treated and control rats. However, the ADC parallel to the optic nerves were significantly increased in the MMC group, in contrast to the unchanged ADC perpendicular to the optic nerves. An electron microscopy study revealed a marked decrease of microtubules and moderate decrease of neurofilaments in the axons of myelinated fibers of optic nerves of the MMC-treated rats. We have thus demonstrated a disturbance in the integrity of microtubules and neurofilaments as a toxic action of MMC in the rat nervous system in vivo, particularly in the optic nerves. The use of ADC values calculated by diffusion-weighted MRI is a promising approach for the evaluation of changes in brains and nerves in methylmercury intoxication research.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.