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Ultrastructural studies of the nervous system after mercury intoxication

II. Pathological changes in the nerve fibers

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Mercury was first detected histochemically in the Schwann cells between 12 and 24 h after the administration of organic or inorganic mercury compound. After 4 days of intoxication, mercury could be observed in the axoplasm. Pathological changes in the dorsal root fibers were observed 1 week after CH3HgCl and 2 weeks after HgCl2 intoxication.

After HgCl2 poisoning, a large axonal space was created in many axons as a result of detachment of the axolemma from the myelin sheath and axonal shrinkage. Axonal degeneration, vacuolation, and collapse were observed in many nerve fibers. Although myelin destruction could be observed occasionally, the regular lamination and periodicity of the myelin sheath were usually preserved.

After CH3HgCl poisoning, however, the myelin sheaths seemed to have lost their lamination and have a smudged or solid appearance. Extensive axoplasmic degeneration, axonal collapse, and myelin destruction were the most prominent lesions observed in these nerve fibers.

Pathological changes in the ventral root fibers and sciatic nerve were not observed until the second week of intoxication by either organic or inorganic mercury compound. While only limited damages were produced in the ventral root fibers, extensive degradation of the axons and demyelination of the nerve fibers were observed in the sciatic nerve.

Disoriented layering of myelin to form concentric myelin structures and active phagocytosis of the degenerative debris by the reactive Schwann cells were also observed.

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Chang, L.W., Hartmann, H.A. Ultrastructural studies of the nervous system after mercury intoxication. Acta Neuropathol 20, 316–334 (1972). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00691749

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Key words

  • Mercuric Neuropathy
  • Nerve Fibers, Motor and Sensory
  • Axoplasmic Degeneration
  • Demyelination