Gender-selective toxicity of thimerosal

Exp Toxicol Pathol. 2009 Mar;61(2):133-6. doi: 10.1016/j.etp.2008.07.002. Epub 2008 Sep 3.


A recent report shows a correlation of the historical use of thimerosal in therapeutic immunizations with the subsequent development of autism; however, this association remains controversial. Autism occurs approximately four times more frequently in males compared to females; thus, studies of thimerosal toxicity should take into consideration gender-selective effects. The present study was originally undertaken to determine the maximum tolerated dose (MTD) of thimersosal in male and female CD1 mice. However, during the limited MTD studies, it became apparent that thimerosal has a differential MTD that depends on whether the mouse is male or female. At doses of 38.4-76.8mg/kg using 10% DMSO as diluent, seven of seven male mice compared to zero of seven female mice tested succumbed to thimerosal. Although the thimerosal levels used were very high, as we were originally only trying to determine MTD, it was completely unexpected to observe a difference of the MTD between male and female mice. Thus, our studies, although not directly addressing the controversy surrounding thimerosal and autism, and still preliminary due to small numbers of mice examined, provide, nevertheless, the first report of gender-selective toxicity of thimerosal and indicate that any future studies of thimerosal toxicity should take into consideration gender-specific differences.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / chemically induced
  • Autistic Disorder / etiology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Male
  • Maximum Tolerated Dose*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / administration & dosage
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / toxicity*
  • Sex Factors
  • Thimerosal / administration & dosage
  • Thimerosal / toxicity*


  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • Thimerosal