ACS chemical biology

Chemical form matters: differential accumulation of mercury following inorganic and organic mercury exposures in zebrafish larvae.

PMID 22026432


Mercury, one of the most toxic elements, exists in various chemical forms each with different toxicities and health implications. Some methylated mercury forms, one of which exists in fish and other seafood products, pose a potential threat, especially during embryonic and early postnatal development. Despite global concerns, little is known about the mechanisms underlying transport and toxicity of different mercury species. To investigate the impact of different mercury chemical forms on vertebrate development, we have successfully combined the zebrafish, a well-established developmental biology model system, with synchrotron-based X-ray fluorescence imaging. Our work revealed substantial differences in tissue-specific accumulation patterns of mercury in zebrafish larvae exposed to four different mercury formulations in water. Methylmercury species not only resulted in overall higher mercury burdens but also targeted different cells and tissues than their inorganic counterparts, thus revealing a significant role of speciation in cellular and molecular targeting and mercury sequestration. For methylmercury species, the highest mercury concentrations were in the eye lens epithelial cells, independent of the formulation ligand (chloride versusl-cysteine). For inorganic mercury species, in absence of l-cysteine, the olfactory epithelium and kidney accumulated the greatest amounts of mercury. However, with l-cysteine present in the treatment solution, mercuric bis-l-cysteineate species dominated the treatment, significantly decreasing uptake. Our results clearly demonstrate that the common differentiation between organic and inorganic mercury is not sufficient to determine the toxicity of various mercury species.