, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1023-1031

First online:

The impact of ionic mercury on antioxidant defenses in two mercury-sensitive anaerobic bacteria

  • Yingjiao WangAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Clark University
  • , Tyler RobisonAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Clark University
  • , Heather WiatrowskiAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Clark University Email author 

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While the toxicological effects of mercury (Hg) are well studied in mammals, little is known about the mechanisms of toxicity to bacterial cells lacking an Hg resistance (mer) operon. We determined that Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 is more sensitive to ionic mercury [Hg(II)] under aerobic conditions than in fumarate reducing conditions, with minimum inhibitory concentrations of 0.25 and 2 μM respectively. This increased sensitivity in aerobic conditions is not due to increased import, as more Hg is associated with cellular material in fumarate reducing conditions than in aerobic conditions. In fumarate reducing conditions, glutathione may provide protection, as glutathione levels decrease in a dose-dependent manner, but this does not occur in aerobic conditions. Hg(II) does not change the redox state of thioredoxin in MR1 in either fumarate reducing conditions or aerobic conditions, although thioredoxin is oxidized in Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA in response to Hg(II) treatment. However, treatment with 0.5 μM Hg(II) increases lipid peroxidation in aerobic conditions but not in fumarate reducing conditions in MR-1. We conclude that the enhanced sensitivity of MR-1 to Hg(II) in aerobic conditions is not due to differences in intracellular responses, but due to damage at the cell envelope.


Shewanella oneidensis Geobacter sulfurreducens Mercury Glutathione Antioxidant Lipid peroxidation Thioredoxin