Mercury (Hg) exposure from dental amalgam fillings and thimerosal in vaccines is not a major health hazard, but adverse health effects cannot be ruled out in a small and more susceptible part of the exposed population. Individual differences in toxicokinetics may explain susceptibility to mercury. Inbred, H-2-congenic A.SW and B10.S mice and their F1- and F2-hybrids were given HgCl2 with 2.0 mg Hg/L drinking water and traces of (203)Hg. Whole-body retention (WBR) was monitored until steady state after 5 weeks, when the organ Hg content was assessed. Despite similar Hg intake, A.SW males attained a 20-30% significantly higher WBR and 2- to 5-fold higher total renal Hg retention/concentration than A.SW females and B10.S mice. A selective renal Hg accumulation but of lower magnitude was seen also in B10.S males compared with females. Differences in WBR and organ Hg accumulation are therefore regulated by non-H-2 genes and gender. Lymph nodes lacked the strain- and gender-dependent Hg accumulation profile of kidney, liver and spleen. After 15 days without Hg A.SW mice showed a 4-fold higher WBR and liver Hg concentration, but 11-fold higher renal Hg concentration, showing the key role for the kidneys in explaining the slower Hg elimination in A.SW mice. The trait causing higher mercury accumulation was not dominantly inherited in the F1 hybrids. F2 mice showed a large inter-individual variation in Hg accumulation, showing that multiple genetic factors influence the Hg toxicokinetics in the mouse. The genetically heterogeneous human population may therefore show a large variation in mercury toxicokinetics.
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