Toxicity of mercury: Molecular evidence

Chemosphere. 2020 Apr:245:125586. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2019.125586. Epub 2019 Dec 16.


Minamata disease in Japan and the large-scale poisoning by methylmercury (MeHg) in Iraq caused wide public concerns about the risk emanating from mercury for human health. Nowadays, it is widely known that all forms of mercury induce toxic effects in mammals, and increasing evidence supports the concern that environmentally relevant levels of MeHg could impact normal biological functions in wildlife. The information of mechanism involved in mercurial toxicity is growing but knowledge gaps still exist between the adverse effects and mechanisms of action, especially at the molecular level. A body of data obtained from experimental studies on mechanisms of mercurial toxicity in vivo and in vitro points to that disruption of the antioxidant system may play an important role in the mercurial toxic effects. Moreover, the accumulating evidence indicates that signaling transduction, protein or/and enzyme activity, and gene regulation are involving in mediating toxic and adaptive response to mercury exposure. We conducted here a comprehensive review of mercurial toxic effects on wildlife and human, in particular synthesized key findings of molecular pathways involved in mercurial toxicity from the cells to human. We discuss the molecular evidence related mercurial toxicity to the adverse effects, with particular emphasis on the gene regulation. The further studies relying on Omic analysis connected to adverse effects and modes of action of mercury will aid in the evaluation and validation of causative relationship between health outcomes and gene expression.

Keywords: Adverse effects; Gene regulation; Mercury; Molecular mechanism; Toxicity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Mercury / toxicity*
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System
  • Methylmercury Compounds / toxicity


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Mercury