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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Low-level exposure to methylmercury modifies muscarinic cholinergic receptor binding characteristics in rat brain and lymphocytes: physiologic implications and new opportunities in biologic monitoring.

Methylmercury (MeHg) affects several parameters of cholinergic function. These alterations are thought to play a role in MeHg neurotoxicity. In vitro experiments have indicated that MeHg acts as a strong competitive inhibitor of radioligand binding to muscarinic cholinergic receptors (mAChRs) in rat brain. Furthermore, rat brain mAChRs share several pharmacologic characteristics of similar receptors present on lymphocytes. Using the muscarinic antagonist [(3)H]quinuclidinyl benzilate (QNB) to label receptors, we investigated the in vivo interactions of MeHg with rat brain mAChRs. We also investigated whether MeHg-induced central mAChR changes are reflected by similar alterations in splenic lymphocytes. Exposure to low doses of MeHg--0.5 or 2 mg/kg/day in drinking water--for 16 days significantly increased (20-44% of control) mAChRs density (B(max)) in the hippocampus and cerebellum without affecting receptor affinity (K(d)). The effect of MeHg did not occur immediately; it was not apparent until 2 weeks after the termination of treatment. No significant changes in [(3)H]QNB binding were observed in the cerebral cortex. In splenic lymphocytes, mAChR density was remarkably increased (95-198% of control) by day 14 of MeHg exposure and remained enhanced 14 days after the cessation of treatment. These results suggest up-regulation of mAChRs in selected brain regions (hippocampus and cerebellum) after prolonged low-level ingestion of MeHg in rats. These cerebral effects are delayed in onset and are preceded by a marked increase in density of mAChRs on lymphocytes. In chronic MeHg exposure, peripheral lymphocytes may represent a sensitive target for the interaction of MeHg with mAChRs and, therefore, may be predictive indicators of later adaptive response involving cerebral mAChRs. Additionally, the effect of MeHg on lymphocyte mAChRs in vivo indicates that this receptor system should be investigated further as a possible target for MeHg immunotoxicity.[1]


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