Heavy metal toxicity has been implicated in the pathogenesis of motor neuron diseases. In an attempt to assess the efficacy of chelating agents to remove mercury from motor neurons, we quantitated the effect of the chelating agents meso-2,3-dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) and 2,3- dimercaptopropane -1-sulphonate (DMPS) on the burden of inorganic mercury in mouse spinal motor neurons. Mice were injected intraperitoneally with 1.0 mg HgCl2/kg body weight and one week later with either 4,400 mg/kg DMPS, 3,600 mg/kg DMSA or 5% NaHCO3 (control) over 4 weeks. Mercury deposits in motor neurons of 50 micron frozen sections of lumbar spinal cord were visualised with an autometallographic technique. Optical sections of silver-enhanced deposits were acquired using a confocal microscope in reflective mode and the volume of the deposits within the perikaryon was estimated. Mercury deposits occupied significantly more volume in motor neurons after both DMPS (7.4%, SD +/- 0.7%) and DMSA (8.0% +/- SD 0.7%) treatment than in controls (4.3%, SD +/- 1.7%). The higher levels of neuronal inorganic mercury may be due to increased entry of mercury into motor axons across the neuromuscular junction as a result of chelator-induced elevated circulating mercury.