Archives of Toxicology

, Volume 78, Issue 10, pp 565–574 | Cite as

Mitochondrial viability and apoptosis induced by aluminum, mercuric mercury and methylmercury in cell lines of neural origin

Inorganic Compounds


Mercury and aluminum are considered to be neurotoxic metals, and they are often connected with the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. In this study, mercuric mercury, methylmercury and aluminum were studied in three different cell lines of neural origin. To evaluate the effects, mitochondrial cytotoxicity and apoptosis induced by the metals were measured after various incubation times. SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma, U 373MG glioblastoma, and RPE D407 retinal pigment epithelial cells were subcultured to appropriate cell culture plates and 0.01–1,000 µM concentrations of methylmercury, mercuric and aluminum chloride were added into the growth medium. In the assay measuring the mitochondrial dehydrogenase activity, WST-1, the cultures were exposed for 15 min, 24 or 48 h before measurement. Cells were allowed to recover from the exposure in part of the study. Apoptosis induced by the metals was measured after 6-, 24- and 48-h exposure times with the determination of activated caspase 3 enzyme. Mitochondrial assays showed a clear dose-response and exposure time-response to the metals. The most toxic was methylmercury (EC50 ~0.8 µM, 48 h), and the most sensitive cell line was the neuroblastoma cell line SH-SY5Y. Furthermore, there was marked mitochondrial activation, especially in connection with aluminum and methylmercury at low concentrations. This activation may be important during the initiation of cellular processes. All the metals tested induced apoptosis, but with a different time-course and cell-line specificity. In microscopic photographs, glioblastoma cells formed fibrillary tangles, and neuroblastoma cells settled along the fibrilles in cocultures of glial and neuronal cell lines during aluminum exposure. The study emphasized the toxicity of methylmercury to neural cells and showed that aluminum alters various cellular activities.


Aluminum Apoptosis Mercury Mitochondrial activity Neural cell lines 



We are grateful to Mrs. Maija Koskela and Mrs. Paula Helpiölä for skillful technical assistance. The study was supported by the Finnish National Technology Agency, TEKES and by the Medical Research Fund of Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland.


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© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Medical School, Cell Research CenterUniversity of TampereTampereFinland

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