Chronic mercury at low doses impairs white adipose tissue plasticity

Toxicology. 2019 Apr 15;418:41-50. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2019.02.013. Epub 2019 Feb 23.


Introduction: The toxic effects of mercury (Hg) are involved in homeostasis of energy systems such as lipid and glucose metabolism, and white adipose tissue dysfunction is considered as a central mechanism leading to metabolic disorders.

Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the effects of chronic inorganic Hg exposure at low doses on the lipid and glycemic metabolism.

Methods: Male Wistar rats were divided into two groups and treated for 60 days with: saline solution, i.m. (Untreated) and mercury chloride, i.m. - 1st dose 4.6 μg/kg, subsequent doses 0.07 μg/kg/day - (Mercury). Histological analyses, Hg levels measurement and GRP78, CHOP, PPARα, PPARγ, leptin, adiponectin and CD11 mRNA expressions were performed in epididymal white adipose tissue (eWAT). Glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol and insulin plasma levels were also measured.

Results: Hg exposure reduced the absolute and relative eWAT weights, adipocyte size, plasma insulin levels, glucose tolerance, antioxidant defenses and increased plasma glucose and triglyceride levels. In addition, CHOP, GRP78, PPARα, PPARγ, leptin and adiponectin mRNA expressions were increased in Hg-treated animals. No differences in Hg concentration were found in eWAT between the untreated and Hg groups. These results suggest that the reduction in adipocyte size is related to the impaired antioxidant defenses, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, the disrupted PPARs and adipokines mRNA expression induced by the metal in eWAT. These disturbances possibly induced a decrease in circulating insulin levels, an imbalance between lipolysis and lipogenesis mechanisms in eWAT, with an increase in fatty acids mobilization, a reduction in glucose uptake and an activation of pro-apoptotic pathways, leading to hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia.

Conclusions: Hg is a powerful environmental WAT disruptor that influences signaling events and impairs metabolic activity and hormonal balance of adipocytes.

Keywords: Adipokines; Endoplasmic reticulum stress; Lipid and glucose metabolism; Mercury; PPARs; White adipose tissue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes, White / drug effects*
  • Adipocytes, White / metabolism
  • Adipocytes, White / pathology
  • Adipose Tissue, White / drug effects*
  • Adipose Tissue, White / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, White / pathology
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Cell Plasticity / drug effects*
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Energy Metabolism / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Insulin / blood
  • Lipids / blood
  • Lipogenesis / drug effects
  • Lipolysis / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mercuric Chloride / toxicity*
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Signal Transduction


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Lipids
  • Mercuric Chloride