Cellular and subcellular distribution of metals in molluscs

Microsc Res Tech. 2002 Mar 1;56(5):358-92. doi: 10.1002/jemt.10040.


The cellular processes involved in metal metabolism in molluscs are reviewed, with emphasis on the contribution of microscopy (AMG, ARG, EPMA, and SIMS) to both basic research of metal cell biology and applied environmental research. In molluscs, metal uptake may occur by facilitated diffusion, active transport, or endocytosis, and can be enhanced by MT synthesis or formation of mineralized granules. In aquatic molluscs, gills constitute a key interface for dissolved metal uptake, where metals are bound to MT, incorporated into lysosomes, and released basally towards the blood plasma and circulating hemocytes. However, particulate metal uptake is mainly achieved via the digestive tract by endocytosis; further metals are transferred first to lysosomes and then to residual bodies, especially in the digestive cells of the digestive gland. Additionally, metals can be accumulated selectively in specific cell types. As ligands pools differ from cell to cell, different metals may be retained in different cell types. Class "a" metals are localized in cells with granules composed of carbonate, oxalate, phosphate, and sulfate (oxygen donors), whereas "b" metals are associated with those cell types rich in sulfur and nitrogen ligands (sulfur donors). In molluscs, oxygen donors occur in connective tissue calcium cells and basophilic cells, whereas sulfur donors are present in digestive cells, podocytes, nephrocytes, and rhogocytes. Hemocytes, which constitute the most relevant system for metal transport between tissues, move around the body and may penetrate tissues and remove metals from the inner medium to be accumulated in lysosomes as nondigested products. Rhogocytes also participate in metal mobilization, accumulation, and release. The assessment of metal levels in target cells of sentinel molluscs by microscopic techniques provides an early-warning measure, with promising applications as an exposure biomarker for environmental monitoring programs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Metals, Heavy / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Electron / methods
  • Mollusca / cytology*
  • Mollusca / metabolism*
  • Subcellular Fractions / metabolism*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Metals, Heavy