Inorganic mercury in human astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, corticomotoneurons and the locus ceruleus: implications for multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative disorders and gliomas

Biometals. 2018 Oct;31(5):807-819. doi: 10.1007/s10534-018-0124-4. Epub 2018 Jun 29.


Neurotoxic metals have been implicated in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative disorders and brain tumours but studies of the location of heavy metals in human brains are rare. In a man who injected himself with metallic mercury the cellular location of mercury in his brain was studied after 5 months of continuous exposure to inorganic mercury arising from metallic mercury deposits in his organs. Paraffin sections from the primary motor and sensory cortices and the locus ceruleus in the pons were stained with autometallography to detect inorganic mercury and combined with glial fibrillary acidic protein immunohistochemistry to identify astrocytes. Inorganic mercury was found in grey matter subpial, interlaminar, protoplasmic and varicose astrocytes, white matter fibrous astrocytes, grey but not white matter oligodendrocytes, corticomotoneurons and some locus ceruleus neurons. In summary, inorganic mercury is taken up by five types of human brain astrocytes, as well as by cortical oligodendrocytes, corticomotoneurons and locus ceruleus neurons. Mercury can induce oxidative stress, stimulate autoimmunity and damage DNA, mitochondria and lipid membranes, so its location in these CNS cells suggests it could play a role in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and glial tumours.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); Astrocyte; Brain tumour; Corticomotoneuron; Human brain; Inorganic mercury; Locus ceruleus; Multiple sclerosis; Oligodendrocyte.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytes / chemistry*
  • DNA Damage
  • Glioma* / chemically induced
  • Glioma* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Locus Coeruleus / chemistry
  • Locus Coeruleus / cytology*
  • Mercury / adverse effects
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Motor Neurons / chemistry*
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / chemically induced
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / pathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases* / chemically induced
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases* / pathology
  • Oligodendroglia / chemistry*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects


  • Mercury