Mercury and silver induce B cell activation and anti-nucleolar autoantibody production in outbred mouse stocks: are environmental factors more important than the susceptibility genes in connection with autoimmunity?

Clin Exp Immunol. 2009 Jan;155(1):117-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03801.x.


Environmental and predisposing genetic factors are known to play a crucial role in the development of systemic autoimmune diseases. With respect to the role of environmental factors, it is not known how and to what extent they contribute to the initiation and exacerbation of systemic autoimmunity. In the present study, I considered this issue and asked if environmental factors can induce autoimmunity in the absence of specific susceptible genes. The development of genetically controlled mercury- and silver-induced B cell activation and anti-nucleolar autoantibodies (ANolA) production in genetically heterozygous outbred Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), Naval Medical Research Institute (NMRI) and Black Swiss mouse stocks were analysed. Four weeks of treatment with both mercury and silver induced a strong B cell activation characterized by increased numbers of splenic antibody-secreting cells of at least one or more immunoglobulin (Ig) isotype(s) in all treated stocks. The three stocks also exhibited a marked increase in the serum IgE levels in response to mercury, but not silver. More importantly, in response to mercury a large numbers of ICR (88%), NMRI (96%) and Black Swiss (100%) mice produced different levels of IgG1 and IgG2a ANolA (a characteristic which is linked strictly to the H-2 genes). Similarly, but at lower magnitudes, treatment with silver also induced the production of IgG1 and IgG2a ANolA in 60% of ICR, 75% of NMRI and 100% of Black Swiss mice. Thus, the findings of this study suggest that long-term exposure to certain environmental factors can activate the immune system to produce autoimmunity per se, without requiring specific susceptible genes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear / blood
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear / immunology*
  • Autoimmunity
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cell Nucleolus / immunology
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Indirect
  • Hemolytic Plaque Technique
  • Immunoglobulin E / analysis
  • Immunoglobulin E / blood
  • Immunoglobulin G / analysis
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Mercury / administration & dosage*
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Silver / administration & dosage*
  • Species Specificity
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Xenobiotics / administration & dosage*


  • Antibodies, Antinuclear
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Xenobiotics
  • Immunoglobulin E
  • Silver
  • Mercury