Proliferation potential of human amniotic fluid stem cells differently responds to mercury and lead exposure

Amino Acids. 2012 Aug;43(2):937-49. doi: 10.1007/s00726-011-1154-1. Epub 2011 Nov 19.


There are considerable gaps in our knowledge on cell biological effects induced by the heavy metals mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb). In the present study we aimed to explore the effects of these toxicants on proliferation and cell size of primary human amniotic fluid stem (AFS) cells. Monoclonal human AFS cells were incubated with three dosages of Hg and Pb (single and combined treatment; ranging from physiological to cytotoxic concentrations) and the intracellular Hg and Pb concentrations were analyzed, respectively. At different days of incubation the effects of Hg and Pb on proliferation, cell size, apoptosis, and expression of cyclins and the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p27 were investigated. Whereas we found Hg to trigger pronounced effects on proliferation of human AFS cells already at low concentrations, anti-proliferative effects of Pb could only be detected at high concentrations. Exposure to high dose of Hg induced pronounced downregulation of cyclin A confirming the anti-proliferative effects observed for Hg. Co-exposure to Hg and Pb did not cause additive effects on proliferation and size of AFS cells, and on cyclin A expression. Our here presented data provide evidence that the different toxicological effects of Pb and Hg on primary human stem cells are due to different intracellular accumulation levels of these two toxicants. These findings allow new insights into the functional consequences of Pb and Hg for mammalian stem cells and into the cell biological behavior of AFS cells in response to toxicants.

MeSH terms

  • Amniotic Fluid / cytology*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Cell Size / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cyclin A / genetics
  • Cyclin A / metabolism
  • Cyclin D1 / genetics
  • Cyclin D1 / metabolism
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p27 / genetics
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p27 / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Food Contamination
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Methylmercury Compounds / metabolism
  • Methylmercury Compounds / toxicity*
  • Mice
  • Organometallic Compounds / metabolism
  • Organometallic Compounds / toxicity*
  • Rats
  • Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / physiology*


  • CCND1 protein, human
  • Cyclin A
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Cyclin D1
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p27
  • lead acetate