Methylmercury alters glutamate transport in astrocytes

Michael Aschner, Chang Ping Yao, Jeffrey W. Allen, Kim H. Tan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

207 Scopus citations


Methylmercury (MeHg) is a significant environmental contaminant that will continue to pose great risk to human health. Considerable attention in the scientific and health policy fora is focused on the question of whether MeHg intake from a diet high in fish is associated with aberrant CNS function. A number of recent studies (Kjellstrom et al., 1986: Kjellstrom, T., Kennedy, P., Wallis, S., Mantell, C., 1986. Physical and mental development of children with prenatal exposure to mercury from fish. Stage I: preliminary tests at age 4. Solna, Sweden. National Swedish Environmental Protection Board Report 3080, 1989: Kjellstrom, T., Kennedy, P., Wallis, S., Stewart, A., Friberg, L. et al., 1989. Physical and mental development of children with prenatal exposure to mercury from fish. Stage II: interviews and psychological tests at age 6. Solna, Sweden. National Swedish Environmental Protection Board Report 3642; McKeown-Eyssen et al., 1983: McKeown-Eyssen, G., Ruedy, J., Neims, A., 1983. Methylmercury exposure in Northern Quebec II: neurologic findings in children. American Journal of Epidemiology 118, 470-479; Grandjean et al., 1997: Grandjean, P., Weihe, P., White, R. F., Debes, F., Araki, S., Yokoyama, K., Murata, K., Sorensen, N., Dahl, R., Jorgensen, P. J., 1997. Cognitive deficit in 7-year-old children with prenatal exposure to methylmercury. Neurotoxicology and Teratology 19, 417-428) suggest that fetal exposure at levels attained by mothers eating fish regularly during pregnancy are associated with neurological deficits in their offspring. Astrocytes play a key role in MeHg-induced excitotoxicity. (1) MeHg preferentially accumulates in astrocytes. (2) MeHg potently and specifically inhibits glutamate uptake in astrocytes. (3) Neuronal dysfunction is secondary to disturbances in astrocytes. (4) Co-application of nontoxic concentrations of MeHg and glutamate leads to the typical appearance of neuronal lesions associated with excitotoxic stimulation. (5) MeHg induces swelling of astrocytes. These observations are fully consistent with MeHg- induced dysregulation of excitatory amino acid homeostasis, and indicate that a glutamate-mediated excitotoxic mechanism is involved. This manuscript details the role of astrocytes in mediating MeHg-induced excitotoxicity, and elaborates on the protective role afforded by metallothioneins (MTs) in attenuating MeHg cytotoxicity. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-206
Number of pages8
JournalNeurochemistry International
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Astrocyte
  • Glutamate
  • Metallothionein
  • Methylmercury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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