Effects of diet on mercury metabolism and excretion in mice given methylmercury: role of gut flora

Arch Environ Health. 1984 Nov-Dec;39(6):401-8. doi: 10.1080/00039896.1984.10545872.


Mice fed either (1) a pelleted rodent diet, (2) evaporated milk, or (3) a synthetic diet (high protein, low fat) exhibited different rates of whole body mercury elimination and fecal mercury excretion after exposure (per os) to methylmercuric chloride. The percentage of the total mercury body burden present as mercuric mercury was highest (35.3%) in mice fed the synthetic diet (which had the highest rate of mercury elimination) and lowest (6.6%) in the animals having the lowest mercury elimination rate (milk-fed mice). Mice fed the synthetic diet had lower mercury concentrations and had a higher proportion of mercuric mercury in their tissues than the mice from the other dietary groups. Treatment of the mice with antibiotics throughout the experimental period to suppress the gut flora reduced fecal mercury excretion and the dietary differences in whole body retention of mercury. Tissue mercury concentrations and proportion of organic mercury in feces, cecal contents, liver, and kidneys were increased by antibiotic treatment of mice fed the pelleted or synthetic diets. These results are consistent with the theory that demethylation of methylmercury by intestinal microflora is a major factor determining the excretion rate of mercury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed / analysis
  • Animals
  • Body Burden
  • Dealkylation
  • Diet*
  • Feces / analysis
  • Female
  • Intestines / analysis
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Liver / analysis
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Mercury / metabolism*
  • Methylmercury Compounds / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Milk / analysis
  • Selenium / analysis
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / analysis
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Mercury
  • Selenium
  • methylmercuric chloride