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J Appl Toxicol. 2007 Sep-Oct;27(5):511-8.

Thimerosal distribution and metabolism in neonatal mice: comparison with methyl mercury.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Medicine, University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.


Thimerosal, which releases the ethyl mercury radical as the active species, has been used as a preservative in many currently marketed vaccines throughout the world. Because of concerns that its toxicity could be similar to that of methyl mercury, it is no longer incorporated in many vaccines in the United States. There are reasons to believe, however, that the disposition and toxicity of ethyl mercury compounds, including thimerosal, may differ substantially from those of the methyl form. The current study sought to compare, in neonatal mice, the tissue concentrations, disposition and metabolism of thimerosal with that of methyl mercury. ICR mice were given single intramuscular injections of thimerosal or methyl mercury (1.4 mg Hg kg(-1)) on postnatal day 10 (PND 10). Tissue samples were collected daily on PND 11-14. Most analysed tissues demonstrated different patterns of tissue distribution and a different rate of mercury decomposition. The mean organic mercury in the brain and kidneys was significantly lower in mice treated with thimerosal than in the methyl mercury-treated group. In the brain, thimerosal-exposed mice showed a steady decrease of organic mercury levels following the initial peak, whereas in the methyl mercury-exposed mice, concentrations peaked on day 2 after exposure. In the kidneys, thimerosal-exposed mice retained significantly higher inorganic mercury levels than methyl mercury-treated mice. In the liver both organic and inorganic mercury concentrations were significantly higher in thimerosal-exposed mice than in the methyl mercury group. Ethyl mercury was incorporated into growing hair in a similar manner to methyl mercury. The data showing significant kinetic differences in tissue distribution and metabolism of mercury species challenge the assumption that ethyl mercury is toxicologically identical to methyl mercury.

(c) 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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