Differential immunotoxic effects of inorganic and organic mercury species in vitro

Renee M. Gardner, Jennifer F. Nyland, Ellen K. Silbergeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the fact that humans are exposed to multiple forms of mercury (elemental, inorganic, and organic), most research on mercury toxicity has focused on methylmercury (MeHg) and on neurotoxic outcomes and mechanisms. Recent work has indicated that the immunotoxic effects of mercury compounds may be significant contributors to human disease as well as mechanistically relevant to other target organ toxicities. In this study, we compared the effects of inorganic Hg (iHg) to organic Hg species (MeHg and ethylmercury, EtHg) in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in vitro at sub-cytotoxic concentrations, using methods developed to characterize response of human PBMCs to iHg in vitro. PBMCs were isolated from six volunteer blood donors (three males and three females) and cultured in the presence and absence of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and low levels (up to 200. nM of each Hg species, separately) for 24. h in culture. Cell culture supernatants were analyzed for cytokine concentrations with a bead-based multiplex assay.We report that iHg and MeHg both increase pro-inflammatory cytokine release in LPS-stimulated PBMCs, while EtHg decreases IFN-γ release as well pro-inflammatory cytokine release. IL-17 release is significantly increased only in response to iHg treatment. Levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1Ra and IL-10) were not significantly altered by any Hg treatment. These results indicate that both organic and inorganic species of Hg can affect the human immune system, but that they may exert different effects on immune function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-190
Number of pages9
JournalToxicology Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Cytokines
  • Humans
  • Immunotoxicity
  • In vitro
  • Mercury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology

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