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Toxicol Sci. 2011 Feb;119(2):281-92. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfq345. Epub 2010 Nov 17.

Coexposure to mercury increases immunotoxicity of trichloroethylene.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, College of Medicine, Arkansas, USA.


We have shown previously that chronic (32 weeks) exposure to occupationally relevant concentrations of the environmental pollutant trichloroethylene (TCE) induced autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) in autoimmune-prone MRL+/+ mice. In real-life, individuals are never exposed to only one chemical such as TCE. However, very little is known about the effects of chemical mixtures on the immune system. The current study examined whether coexposure to another known immunotoxicant, mercuric chloride (HgCl(2)), altered TCE-induced AIH. Female MRL+/+ mice were treated for only 8 weeks with TCE (9.9 or 186.9 mg/kg/day in drinking water) and/or HgCl(2) (260 μg/kg/day, sc). Unlike mice exposed to either TCE or HgCl(2) alone, mice exposed to both toxicants for 8 weeks developed significant liver pathology commensurate with early stages of AIH. Disease development in the coexposed mice was accompanied by a unique pattern of anti-liver and anti-brain antibodies that recognized, among others, a protein of approximately 90 kDa. Subsequent immunoblotting showed that sera from the coexposed mice contained antibodies specific for heat shock proteins, a chaperone protein targeted by antibodies in patients with AIH. Thus, although TCE can promote autoimmune disease following chronic exposure, a shorter exposure to a binary mixture of TCE and HgCl(2) accelerated disease development. Coexposure to TCE and HgCl(2) also generated a unique liver-specific antibody response not found in mice exposed to a single toxicant. This finding stresses the importance of including mixtures in assessments of chemical immunotoxicity.

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