Methylmercury alters the in vitro uptake of glutamate in GLAST- and GLT-1-transfected mutant CHO-K1 cells

Lysette Mutkus, Judy L. Aschner, Tore Syversen, Michael Aschner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


In order to maintain normal functioning of the brain, glutamate homeostasis and extracellular levels of excitotoxic amino acids (EAA) must be tightly controlled. This is accomplished, in large measure, by the astroglial high-affinity Na+-dependent EAA transporters glutamate/ aspartate transporter (GLAST) and glutamate transporter-1 (GLT-1). Methylmercury (MeHg) is a potent neurotoxicant. Astrocytes are known targets for MeHg toxicity representing a site for mercury localization. MeHg is known to cause astrocytic swelling, EAA release, and uptake inhibition in astrocytes, leading to increased extracellular glutamate levels and ensuing neuronal excitotoxicity and degeneration. However, the mechanisms and contribution of specific glutamate transporters to MeHg-induced glutamate dyshomeostasis remain unknown. Accordingly, the present study was carried out to investigate the effects of MeHg on the transport of [D-2, 3-3H]-D-aspartate, a nonmetabolizable glutamate analog in Chinese hamster ovary cells (CHO) transfected with the glutamate transporter subtypes GLAST or GLT-1. Additional studies examined the effects of MeHg on mRNA and protein levels of these transporters. Our results indicate the following (1) MeHg selectively affects glutamate transporter mRNA expression. MeHg treatment (6 h) led to no discernible changes in GLAST mRNA expression; however, GLT-1 mRNA expression significantly (p < 0.001) increased following treatments with 5 or 10 μM MeHg. (2) Selective changes in the expression of glutamate transporter protein levels were also noted. GLAST transporter protein levels significantly (p < 0.001, both at 5 and 10 μM MeHg) increased and GLT-1 transporter protein levels significantly (p < 0.001) decreased following MeHg exposure (5 μM). (3) MeHg exposure led to significant inhibition (p < 0.05) of glutamate uptake by GLAST (both 5 and 10 μM MeHg), whereas GLT-1 transporter activity was significantly (p < 0.01) increased following exposure to 5 and 10 μM MeHg. These studies suggest that MeHg contributes to the dysregulation of glutamate homeostasis and that its effects are distinct for GLAST and GLT-1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-245
Number of pages15
JournalBiological Trace Element Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2005


  • GLT-1
  • Glutamate transport
  • Methylmercury
  • Neurotoxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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