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Cell Biol Toxicol. 2011 Jun;27(3):181-97. doi: 10.1007/s10565-010-9180-4. Epub 2011 Jan 18.

Cerebral gene expression in response to single or combined gestational exposure to methylmercury and selenium through the maternal diet.

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  • 1National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, Bergen, Norway.


Controversy remains regarding the safety of consuming certain types of seafood, particularly during pregnancy. While seafood is rich in vital nutrients, it may also be an important source of environmental contaminants such as methylmercury (MeHg). Selenium (Se) is one essential element present in seafood, hypothesised to ameliorate MeHg toxicity. The aim of the present study was to ascertain the impact of Se on MeHg-induced cerebral gene expression in a mammalian model. Microarray analysis was performed on brain tissue from 15-day-old mice that had been exposed to MeHg throughout development via the maternal diet. The results from the microarray analysis were validated using qPCR. The exposure groups included: MeHg alone (2.6 mg kg(-1)), Se alone (1.3 mg kg(-1)), and MeHg + Se. MeHg was presented in a cysteinate form, and Se as Se-methionine, one of the elemental species occurring naturally in seafood. Eight genes responded to Se exposure alone, five were specific to MeHg, and 63 were regulated under the concurrent exposure of MeHg and Se. Significantly enriched functional classes relating to the immune system and cell adhesion were identified, highlighting potential ameliorating mechanisms of Se on MeHg toxicity. Key developmental genes, such as Wnt3 and Sparcl1, were also identified as putative ameliorative targets. This study, utilising environmentally realistic forms of toxicants, delivered through the natural route of exposure, in association with the power of transcriptomics, highlights significant novel information regarding putative pathways of selenium and MeHg interaction in the mammalian brain.

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