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Neurotoxicology. 2009 Nov;30(6):1000-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2009.08.001. Epub 2009 Aug 8.

Methylmercury induces neuropathological changes with tau hyperphosphorylation mainly through the activation of the c-jun-N-terminal kinase pathway in the cerebral cortex, but not in the hippocampus of the mouse brain.

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Department of Basic Medical Sciences, National Institute for Minamata Disease, 4058-18 Hama, Minamata, Kumamoto 867-0008, Japan.


Methylmercury (MeHg) is a well-known neurotoxicant inducing neuronal degeneration in the central nervous system. This in vivo study investigated the involvement of tau hyperphosphorylation in MeHg-induced neuropathological changes in the mouse brain, because abnormal tau hyperphosphorylation causes significant pathological changes associated with some neurodegenerative diseases. Mice that were administrated to 30 ppm MeHg in drinking water for 8 weeks exhibited neuropathological changes, e.g. a decrease in the number of neuron; an increase in the number of migratory astrocytes and microglia/macrophages; necrosis and apoptosis in the cerebral cortex, particularly the deep layer of primary motor cortex and prelimbic cortex. Western blotting revealed that MeHg exposure increased tau phosphorylation at Thr-205, Ser-396 and Ser-422 in the cerebral cortex, consistent with the phosphorylation patterns noted in Alzheimer's disease and frontotemporal dementia. Immunohistochemical analyses revealed that the distribution of tau-phosphorylated (Thr-205) neurons corresponded with the areas showing considerable neuropathological changes. Among the kinases and phosphatases related to tau hyperphosphorylation, the activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 4 (MKK4) and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) was recognized. Neither neuropathological changes nor tau hyperphosphorylation was detected in the hippocampus in this study although the mercury concentration here was twice that in the cerebral cortex. These findings suggest that MeHg exposure induces tau hyperphosphorylation at specific sites of tau mainly through the activation of JNK pathways, leading to neuropathological changes in the cerebral cortex selectively, but not in the hippocampus of mouse brain.

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