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Neurotoxicology. 2008 Jan;29(1):22-30. Epub 2007 Sep 1.

Methylmercury activates ASK1/JNK signaling pathways, leading to apoptosis due to both mitochondria- and endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-generated processes in myogenic cell lines.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Medicine, National Institute for Minamata Disease, 4058-18 Hama, Minamata, Kumamoto 867-0008, Japan.


Cellular stress responses following exposure to methylmercury (MeHg) were investigated using myogenic cell lines that showed different susceptibilities to MeHg. The susceptible cell line showed apoptosis within 24h after exposure to low levels of MeHg. The activation of caspase 12, 9, and 3 was detected in the apoptotic cells at 14-16 h after MeHg exposure, suggesting that MeHg causes apoptosis via both mitochondria- and endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-generated processes. An early increase in the level of intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) was quantitatively recognized since 2-3h after exposure to MeHg in both MeHg-susceptible and non-susceptible cell lines; however, the increase was lower in the latter cell line. The phosphorylation of apoptosis signal-regulating kinase 1 (ASK1) was also recognized in both cell lines, with the increase in intracellular ROS. However, the activation of stress-activated protein kinase/c-Jun N-terminal kinase (SAPK/JNK) pathways was observed only in the MeHg-susceptible cell line. In contrast, the non-susceptible cell line exhibited activation of the cell survival ERK pathway. Up-regulation of metallothioneine I and Hic-5 mRNAs encoding proteins induced by oxidative stress was recognized during the early stage of MeHg cytotoxicity in the MeHg-susceptible cell line. Quantitative real-time PCR and western blot analyses confirmed that ER stress is a late event during MeHg cytotoxicity. Coaddition of the antioxidant Trolox dramatically suppressed the increase in the level of ROS, activation of caspases and, finally, apoptosis. However, later treatment with Trolox attenuated its protective effect against MeHg cytotoxicity. The results indicate that failure to protect cells against the early oxidative stress triggers ER stress and apoptosis processes. Combined treatment with protective factors against oxidative and ER stresses is necessary, especially in the later stages of MeHg cytotoxicity.

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