Methylmercury (MeHg) is an environmental pollutant known to cause neurobehavioral defects and is especially toxic to the developing brain. With recent studies showing that fetal exposure to low-dose MeHg causes developmental abnormalities, it is therefore important to find ways to combat its effects as well as to clarify the mechanism(s) underlying MeHg toxicity. In the present study, the effects of MeHg on cultured neural progenitor cells (NPC) derived from mouse embryonic brain were investigated. We first confirmed the vulnerability of embryonic NPC to MeHg toxicity, NPC from the telencephalon were more sensitive to MeHg compared to those from the diencephalon. Buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) which is known to inhibit glutathione synthesis accelerated MeHg toxicity. Furthermore, antioxidants such as N-acetyl cysteine and α-tocopherol dramatically rescued the NPC from MeHg's toxic effects. Interestingly, a 12 hr delay in the addition of either antioxidant was still able to prevent the cells from undergoing cell death. Although it is now difficult to avoid MeHg exposure from our environment and contaminated foods, taking anti-oxidants from foods or supplements may prevent or diminish the toxicological effects of MeHg.
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