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PLoS One. 2014 Nov 4;9(11):e111202. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111202. eCollection 2014.

60-Day chronic exposure to low concentrations of HgCl2 impairs sperm quality: hormonal imbalance and oxidative stress as potential routes for reproductive dysfunction in rats.

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Postgraduate Program in Biochemistry, Universidade Federal do Pampa, Uruguaiana, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
Department of Morphology, Stomatology and Physiology, School of Dentistry, Universidade de São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo, Brazil.
Department of Physiological Sciences, Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo, Vitória, Espírito Santo, Brazil.
Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
Department of Biochemistry, Physiology and Molecular Genetics, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Alcorcón, Spain.


Mercury is a toxic and bio-accumulative heavy metal of global concern. While good deals of research have been conducted on the toxic effects of mercury, little is known about the mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of male reproductive dysfunction induced by mercury. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to assess the effects and underlying mechanisms of chronic mercury exposure at low levels on male reproductive system of rats. Three-month-old male Wistar rats were divided into two groups and treated for 60 days with saline (i.m., Control) and HgCl2 (i.m. 1st dose: 4.6 µg/kg, subsequent doses 0.07 µg/kg/day). We analyzed sperm parameters, hormonal levels and biomarkers of oxidative stress in testis, epididymis, prostate and vas deferens. Mercury treatment decreased daily sperm production, count and motility and increased head and tail morphologic abnormalities. Moreover, mercury treatment decreased luteinizing hormone levels, increased lipid peroxidation on testis and decreased antioxidant enzymes activities (superoxide dismutase and catalase) on reproductive organs. Our data demonstrate that 60-day chronic exposure to low concentrations of HgCl2 impairs sperm quality and promotes hormonal imbalance. The raised oxidative stress seems to be a potential mechanism involved on male reproductive toxicity by mercury.

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