Chronic inorganic mercury exposure induces sex-specific changes in central TNFα expression: importance in autism?

Neurosci Lett. 2011 Oct 17;504(1):40-4. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2011.08.053. Epub 2011 Aug 31.


Mercury is neurotoxic and increasing evidence suggests that environmental exposure to mercury may contribute to neuropathologies including Alzheimer's disease and autism spectrum disorders. Mercury is known to disrupt immunocompetence in the periphery, however, little is known about the effects of mercury on neuroimmune signaling. Mercury-induced effects on central immune function are potentially very important given that mercury exposure and neuroinflammation both are implicated in certain neuropathologies (i.e., autism). Furthermore, mounting evidence points to the involvement of glial activation in autism. Therefore, we utilized an in vivo model to assess the effects of mercury exposure on neuroimmune signaling. In prairie voles, 10 week mercury exposure (60ppm HgCl(2) in drinking water) resulted in a male-specific increase in TNFα protein expression in the cerebellum and hippocampus. These findings are consistent with our previously reported male-specific mercury-induced deficits in social behavior and further support a role for heavy metals exposure in neuropathologies such as autism. Subsequent studies should further evaluate the mechanism of action and biological consequences of heavy metals exposure. Additionally, these observations highlight the potential of neuroimmune markers in male voles as biomarkers of environmental mercury toxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arvicolinae
  • Autistic Disorder / chemically induced*
  • Cerebellum / metabolism*
  • Chemokine CCL2 / biosynthesis
  • Chemokine CXCL10 / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Models, Animal
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / biosynthesis*


  • Chemokine CCL2
  • Chemokine CXCL10
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha