Mercury is a well-known toxic metal, which induces oxidative stress. Pancreatic beta-cells are vulnerable to oxidative stress. The pathophysiological effect of mercury on the function of pancreatic beta-cells remains unclear. The present study was designed to investigate the effects of methylmercury (MeHg)-induced oxidative stress on the cell viability and function of pancreatic beta-cells. The number of viable cells was reduced 24 h after MeHg treatment in a dose-dependent manner with a range from 1 to 20 microM. 2',7'-Dichlorofluorescein fluorescence as an indicator of reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation after exposure of HIT-T15 cells or isolated mouse pancreatic islets to MeHg significantly increased ROS levels. MeHg could also suppress insulin secretion in HIT-T15 cells and isolated mouse pancreatic islets. After 24 h of exposure to MeHg, HIT-T15 cells had a significant increase in mercury levels with a dose-dependent manner. Moreover, MeHg displayed several features of cell apoptosis including an increase of the sub-G1 population and annexin-V binding. Treatment of HIT-T15 cells with MeHg resulted in disruption of the mitochondrial membrane potential and release of cytochrome c from the mitochondria to the cytosol and activation of caspase-3. Antioxidant N-acetylcysteine effectively reversed the MeHg-induced cellular responses. Altogether, our data clearly indicate that MeHg-induced oxidative stress causes pancreatic beta-cell apoptosis and dysfunction.