Methylmercury-Induced Neurotoxicity: Focus on Pro-oxidative Events and Related Consequences

  • Marcelo FarinaEmail author
  • Michael Aschner
Part of the Advances in Neurobiology book series (NEUROBIOL, volume 18)


Methylmercury (MeHg) is a highly neurotoxic environmental pollutant. Even though molecular mechanisms mediating MeHg toxicity are not completely understood, several lines of evidence indicate that the neurotoxic effects resultant from MeHg exposure represent a consequence of its pro-oxidative properties. In this regard, MeHg is a soft electrophile that preferentially interacts with (and oxidize) nucleophilic groups (mainly thiols and selenols) from biomolecules, including proteins and low-molecular-weight molecules. Such interaction contributes to the occurrence of oxidative stress and impaired function of several molecules [proteins (receptors, transporters, enzymes, structural proteins), lipids (i.e., membrane constituents and intracellular messengers), and nucleic acids (i.e., DNA)], culminating in neurotoxicity.

In this chapter, an initial background on the general aspects regarding the neurotoxicology of MeHg, with a particular focus on its pro-oxidative properties and its interaction with nucleophilic thiol- and selenol-containing molecules, is provided. Even though experimental evidence indicates that symptoms (i.e., motor impairment) resultant from MeHg exposure are linked to its pro-oxidative properties, as well as to their molecular consequences (lipid peroxidation, disruption of glutamate and/or calcium homeostasis, etc.), data concerning the relationship between molecular parameters and behavioral impairment others that those related to the motor function (i.e., visual impairment, cognitive skills, etc.) are scarce. Thus, even though scientific research has provided a significant amount of knowledge concerning the mechanisms mediating MeHg-induced neurotoxicity in the last decades, the whole scenario is far from being completely understood, and further research in this area is well warranted.


Methylmercury Pro-oxidative events Oxidative stress Neurotoxicity 

Abbreviations and Synonyms


Glutathione (reduced form)


Hydrogen peroxide


Methylmercury = CH3Hg+


Selenol = selenohydryl

-Se (deprotonated form of selenol)



Thiol = sulfhydryl

-S (deprotonated form of thiol)




The author would like to thank the colleagues/coauthors who have contributed to several studies referenced in this chapter. These studies were funded in part by grants from the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), and Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa e Inovação do Estado de Santa Catarina (FAPESC).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Bioquímica, Centro de Ciências BiológicasUniversidade Federal de Santa CatarinaFlorianópolisBrazil
  2. 2.Department of Molecular PharmacologyAlbert Einstein College of MedicineBronxUSA

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