Concentration-dependent effects of mercury and lead on Aβ42: possible implications for Alzheimer’s disease

  • Daniela MeleleoEmail author
  • Gabriella Notarachille
  • Vincenzo Mangini
  • Fabio Arnesano
Original Article


Mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb) are known to be toxic non-radioactive elements, with well-described neurotoxicology. Much evidence supports the implication of metals as potential risk cofactors in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Although the action mechanism of the two metals remains unclear, Hg and Pb toxicity in AD could depend on their ability to favour misfolding and aggregation of amyloid beta proteins (Aβs) that seem to have toxic properties, particularly in their aggregated state. In our study, we evaluated the effect of Hg and Pb both on the Aβ42 ion channel incorporated in a planar lipid membrane made up of phosphatidylcholine containing 30% cholesterol and on the secondary structure of Aβ42 in an aqueous environment. The effects of Hg and Pb on the Aβ42 peptide were observed for its channel incorporated into a membrane as well as for the peptide in solution. A decreasing Aβ42 channel frequency and the formation of large and amorphous aggregates in solution that are prone to precipitate were both dependent on metal concentration. These experimental data suggest that Hg and Pb interact directly with Aβs, strengthening the hypothesis that the two metals may be a risk factor in AD.


Aβ Ion channel Lipid bilayer Aggregation Mercury Lead 



The authors acknowledge Dr. Antonio Rosato and Maria Incoronata Nardella for their assistance in the recording of CD spectra. The University of Bari and the Consorzio Interuniversitario di Ricerca in Chimica dei Metalli nei Sistemi Biologici (CIRCMSB) are gratefully acknowledged for their support for this work. The authors acknowledge Anthony Green for proofreading and providing linguistic advice.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.


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© European Biophysical Societies' Association 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biosciences, Biotechnologies and BiopharmaceuticsUniversity of Bari “Aldo Moro”BariItaly
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryUniversity of Bari “Aldo Moro”BariItaly

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