The comparative toxicology of ethyl- and methylmercury

Abstract

Neurotoxicity and renotoxicity were compared in rats given by gastric gavage five daily doses of 8.0 mg Hg/kg methyl- or ethylmercuric chloride or 9.6 mg Hg/kg ethylmercuric chloride. Three or 10 days after the last treatment day rats treated with either 8.0 or 9.6 mg Hg/kg ethylmercury had higher total or organic mercury concentrations in blood and lower concentrations in kidneys and brain than methylmercury-treated rats. In each of these tissues the inorganic mercury concentration was higher after ethyl than after methylmercury.

Weight loss relative to the expected body weight and renal damage was higher in ethylmercury-treated rats than in rats given equimolar doses of methylmercury. These effects became more severe when the dose of ethylmercury was increased by 20%. Thus in renotoxicity the renal concentration of inorganic mercury seems to be more important than the concentration of organic or total mercury. In methylmercury-treated rats damage and inorganic mercury deposits were restricted to the P2 region of the proximal tubules, while in ethylmercury-treated rats the distribution of mercury and damage was more widespread.

There was little difference in the neurotoxicities of methylmercury and ethylmercury when effects on the dorsal root ganglia or coordination disorders were compared. Based on both criteria, an equimolar dose of ethylmercury was less neurotoxic than methylmercury, but a 20% increase in the dose of ethylmercury was enough to raise the sum of coordination disorder scores slightly and ganglion damage significantly above those in methylmercury-treated rats.

In spite of the higher inorganic mercury concentration in the brain of ethylmercurythan in the brain of methylmercury-treated rats, the granular layer damage in the cerebellum was widespread only in the methylmercury-treated rats. Thus inorganic mercury or dealkylation cannot be responsible for granular layer damage in alkylmercury intoxication. Moreover, histochemistry demonstrated no inorganic mercury deposits in the granular layer.

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Magos, L., Brown, A.W., Sparrow, S. et al. The comparative toxicology of ethyl- and methylmercury. Arch Toxicol 57, 260–267 (1985). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00324789

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Key words

  • Methylmercury
  • Ethylmercury
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Renotoxicity
  • Decomposition