Occupational exposure to mercury vapour on genotoxicity and DNA repair

Mutat Res. 2005 Oct 3;586(2):102-14. doi: 10.1016/j.mrgentox.2005.06.009.


We have conducted a population study to investigate whether current occupational exposure to mercury can cause genotoxicity and can affect DNA repair efficiency. Blood samples from 25 exposed workers and 50 matched controls were investigated for the expression of genotoxicity. The data indicate that mercury exposure did not cause any significant differences between the workers and controls in the baseline levels of DNA strand breaks (as measured by the alkaline version of the single cell gel electrophoresis [SCGE] assay) or sister chromatid exchanges (SCE). However, the exposure produced elevated average DNA tails length in the SCGE assay and frequency of chromosome aberrations. In the studies, isolated lymphocytes were exposed to 6J/m2 UV-C light or 2 Gy dose of X-rays in a challenge assay and repair of the induced DNA damage was evaluated using the SCGE assay. Results from the UV-light challenge assay showed no difference between the workers and controls in the expression of DNA strand breaks after exposure followed by incubation in the absence or presence of the cellular mitogen (phytohemagglutinin, PHA). No difference in DNA strand breaks between the workers and controls was seen immediately after the X-ray challenge, either. However, significant differences were observed in cells that were incubated for 2h with and without phytohemagglutinin. Data from the X-rays challenge assay were further used to calculate indices that indicate DNA repair efficiency. Results show that the repair efficiencies for the workers (69.7% and 83.9% in un-stimulated and stimulated lymphocytes, respectively) were significantly lower than that of matched controls (85.7% and 90.4%, respectively). In addition, the repair efficiency showed a consistent and significant decrease with the duration of occupational exposure to mercury (from 75.7% for <10 years employment, to 65.1% for 11-20 years and to 64.1% for 21-35 years) associated with increase of cytogenetic damage. Our study suggests that the occupational exposure to mercury did not cause a direct genotoxicity but caused significant deficiency in DNA repair. Our observations are consistent with previous studies using the standard chromosome aberration assay to show that exposure to hazardous environmental agents can cause deficiency in DNA repair. Therefore, these affected individuals may have exposure-related increase of health risk from continued exposure and in combination with exposure to other genotoxic agents.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chromosome Aberrations / drug effects*
  • Comet Assay
  • DNA Damage / genetics
  • DNA Repair / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / radiation effects
  • Mercury / toxicity*
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Poland
  • Sister Chromatid Exchange / drug effects
  • Time Factors


  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Mercury