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Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 1993 Jan;15(1):87-112.

Immunotoxic effects of mercuric compounds on human lymphocytes and monocytes. III. Alterations in B-cell function and viability.

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Department of Pathology, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, Philadelphia 19104-6002.


The major goal of the study was to determine the effects of high and low levels of mercury on human B-cells. Following treatment of B-cells with HgCl2 (0-1000 ng) and MeHgCl2 (0-100 ng), their activation by mitogens was evaluated. Both forms of mercury caused a dose dependent reduction in B-cell proliferation in the presence or absence of monocytes. MeHgCl was approximately 10 times more potent than HgCl2. Mercury also inhibited the ability of these cells to synthesize IgM and IgG. Analysis of the expression of activation markers indicated that CD69, an early marker of cell activation, was not effected by mercury. In comparison, B-cell expression of the low affinity IgE receptor and the transferrin receptor were significantly reduced. Of particular interest, cells activated by mitogen for 48 hr became refractory to the immunotoxic effects of mercury. When exposed to high levels of HgCl2 (0.5-10 micrograms/ml) and MeHgCl (0.05-1 micrograms/ml), there was minimal reduction in B-cell viability at 1-4 hr, however, after exposure to mercury for 24 hr, cell death was apparent. MeHgCl was approximately 5-10 times more potent than HgCl2. Electron microscopic analysis revealed early nuclear alterations characterized by hyperchromaticity, nuclear fragmentation and condensation of nucleoplasm. Both forms of mercury caused a rapid and sustained elevation in the intracellular levels of Ca++. The results of this investigation clearly show that mercury-containing compounds are immunomodulatory; moreover, the decrease in B-cell function indicates that this metal is immunotoxic at very low exposure levels. Furthermore, the cytotoxic events are consistent with the notion that mercury initiates changes associated with programmed cell death.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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