Mechanisms of Hg species induced toxicity in cultured human astrocytes: genotoxicity and DNA-damage response

Metallomics. 2014 Mar;6(3):662-71. doi: 10.1039/c3mt00337j. Epub 2014 Feb 19.


The toxicologically most relevant mercury (Hg) species for human exposure is methylmercury (MeHg). Thiomersal is a common preservative used in some vaccine formulations. The aim of this study is to get further mechanistic insight into the yet not fully understood neurotoxic modes of action of organic Hg species. Mercury species investigated include MeHgCl and thiomersal. Additionally HgCl2 was studied, since in the brain mercuric Hg can be formed by dealkylation of the organic species. As a cellular system astrocytes were used. In vivo astrocytes provide the environment necessary for neuronal function. In the present study, cytotoxic effects of the respective mercuricals increased with rising alkylation level and correlated with their cellular bioavailability. Further experiments revealed for all species at subcytotoxic concentrations no induction of DNA strand breaks, whereas all species massively increased H2O2-induced DNA strand breaks. This co-genotoxic effect is likely due to a disturbance of the cellular DNA damage response. Thus, at nanomolar, sub-cytotoxic concentrations, all three mercury species strongly disturbed poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation, a signalling reaction induced by DNA strand breaks. Interestingly, the molecular mechanism behind this inhibition seems to be different for the species. Since chronic PARP-1 inhibition is also discussed to sacrifice neurogenesis and learning abilities, further experiments on neurons and in vivo studies could be helpful to clarify whether the inhibition of poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation contributes to organic Hg induced neurotoxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytes / drug effects*
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • DNA Breaks / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Methylmercury Compounds / toxicity*
  • Mutagens / toxicity*
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly Adenosine Diphosphate Ribose / analysis
  • Poly Adenosine Diphosphate Ribose / metabolism
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism
  • Thimerosal / toxicity*


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Mutagens
  • Thimerosal
  • Poly Adenosine Diphosphate Ribose
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • PARP1 protein, human
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases