Comparison of the Interaction of Methyl Mercury and Mercuric Chloride with Murine Macrophages

The toxicity of organic methyl mercury was studied on murine macrophages in cell culture and compared to that of inorganic mercuric chloride. Long-term treatment of macrophage cultures with methyl mercury resulted in decreased cell viability in a concentration-dependent fashion. Experiments showed that 20 microM methyl mercury was highly toxic, causing cell death within a few days, while cultures exposed to lower levels were less severely affected. Comparison of the toxicity of organic and inorganic mercury by cell viability showed no difference between equimolar concentrations of methyl mercury and mercuric chloride. Furthermore, protein synthesis (interferon-alpha/beta) was reduced in a concentration dependent manner and had the same reduced magnitude in cells treated with either methyl mercury or mercuric chloride. However, impairment of random migration and phagocytosis of macrophages appeared at lower concentrations in cells exposed to methyl mercury than in cells exposed to mercuric chloride. Electron microscopy of cells exposed to methyl mercury revealed mercury deposits in lysosomes and dispersed in the cytoplasm and nuclei. The present study shows that methyl mercury and mercuric chloride impair cell viability and protein production in cell cultures at equimolar concentrations, while methyl mercury inhibits macrophage functions such as migration and phagocytosis at lower concentrations than mercuric chloride.

Christensen MM, Ellermann-Eriksen S, Rungby J, Mogensen SC. Arch Toxicol. 1993; 67(3):205-11. 7684221 PubMed

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