Alkyl Mercury-Induced Toxicity: Multiple Mechanisms of Action

Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2017;240:105-149. doi: 10.1007/398_2016_1.


There are a number of mechanisms by which alkylmercury compounds cause toxic action in the body. Collectively, published studies reveal that there are some similarities between the mechanisms of the toxic action of the mono-alkyl mercury compounds methylmercury (MeHg) and ethylmercury (EtHg). This paper represents a summary of some of the studies regarding these mechanisms of action in order to facilitate the understanding of the many varied effects of alkylmercurials in the human body. The similarities in mechanisms of toxicity for MeHg and EtHg are presented and compared. The difference in manifested toxicity of MeHg and EtHg are likely the result of the differences in exposure, metabolism, and elimination from the body, rather than differences in mechanisms of action between the two.

Keywords: Arachidonic acid; Calcium homeostasis; Cell cycle/division; Ethylmercury; Glial cells; Glutamate; Glutamine; Glutathione (GSH); Leukotriene synthesis mechanism of toxicity; Membrane permeability/integrity; Methylmercury; Mitochondria; Neurotransmitter release nitric oxide; Oxidative stress; ROS; Reactive oxygen species; Receptor binding; Thimerosal.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Ethylmercury Compounds / toxicity*
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Methylmercury Compounds / toxicity*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects


  • Ethylmercury Compounds
  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Glutathione
  • Calcium