Methylmercury (MeHg) is a widespread environmental pollutant and causes a serious hazard to health worldwide. However, molecular mechanisms underlying MeHg toxicity remain elusive. We show that MeHg reduced mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) viability in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, MeHg treatment increased levels of autophagy markers LC3-II and p62, possibly by acting on the MAPKs signaling pathway in several cell types. MeHg exposure elevated the number of LC3 puncta in stable GFP-LC3 MEFs and the number of autophagic vacuoles. The accumulation of LC3-II and p62 increased further when complementing MeHg with autophagy inhibitor, chloroquine. Moreover, we found that autophagy-related gene 5-deficient (Atg5-/-) MEFs exhibited higher sensitivity and higher levels of p62 compared to their wild-type counterparts following MeHg exposure. This suggested that p62 was upregulated at the transcription level by MeHg and degraded by Atg5-dependent autophagy. Our data demonstrate that MeHg exposure promotes autophagy, and Atg5-dependent autophagy serves to protect cells from MeHg cytotoxicity.
Keywords: Atg5; Autophagy; LC3; Methylmercury; p62.
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