Toxicity of volatile methylated species of bismuth, arsenic, tin, and mercury in Mammalian cells in vitro

J Toxicol. 2011;2011:503576. doi: 10.1155/2011/503576. Epub 2011 Oct 5.


The biochemical transformation of mercury, tin, arsenic and bismuth through formation of volatile alkylated species performs a fundamental role in determining the environmental processing of these elements. While the toxicity of inorganic forms of most of these compounds are well documented (e.g., arsenic, mercury) and some of them are of relatively low toxicity (e.g., tin, bismuth), the more lipid-soluble organometals can be highly toxic. In the present study we investigated the cyto- and genotoxicity of five volatile metal(loid) compounds: trimethylbismuth, dimethylarsenic iodide, trimethylarsine, tetramethyltin, and dimethylmercury. As far as we know, this is the first study investigating the toxicity of volatile metal(loid) compounds in vitro. Our results showed that dimethylmercury was most toxic to all three used cell lines (CHO-9 cells, CaCo, Hep-G2) followed by dimethylarsenic iodide. Tetramethyltin was the least toxic compound; however, the toxicity was also dependend upon the cell type. Human colon cells (CaCo) were most susceptible to the toxicity of the volatile compounds compared to the other cell lines. We conclude from our study that volatile metal(loid) compounds can be toxic to mammalian cells already at very low concentrations but the toxicity depends upon the metal(loid) species and the exposed cell type.