Heavy Metal Cytotoxicity in Marine Organisms: Effects on Ca2+ Homeostasis and Possible Alteration of Signal Transduction Pathways

  • A. Viarengo
Part of the Advances in Comparative and Environmental Physiology book series (COMPARATIVE, volume 20)


The data reported show that heavy metals, such as Hg2+, Cu2+, Cd2+, and Zn2+, are able to affect the mechanisms of Ca2+ homeostasis. It has been demonstrated that heavy metals, probably interacting with the sulphydrylic groups of the membrane proteins involved in the structure of the Ca2+ channels, can enhance the flux of Ca cations through the plasma membrane, the membrane of calciosomes, and mitochondria.

Moreover, the high affinity of heavy metals for SH residues could explain the high sensitivity of Ca2+ ATPases to these metals. In fact, Ca2+ translocases contain SH groups critical for the enzyme activity.

In the case of Cu2+ this cation, probably through the production of oxygen radicals, stimulates the process of lipid peroxidation of cell membranes, possibly contributing to the alteration of structural and enzymatic proteins involved in Ca2+ homeostasis through the oxidation of the sulphydrylic residues. In addition, heavy metals are also able to inhibit the Na+ /K+ ATPase, a well-known SH-containing enzyme present in the plasma membrane. This is of particular interest considering that Na+ /K+ translocase regulates a Na+/Ca2+ exchanger, whose function in Ca2+ homeostasis has been demonstrated in the plasma membrane of many different cells.

The role of GSH and metallothioneins as important components of the cell mechanisms to reduce the cytotoxic effects of heavy metals has here also been described.

Data are also presented concerning the effects of heavy metals on the mechanism of signal transduction. It seems possible that the cations affecting Ca2+ homeostasis could render the cell no more sensitive to Ca-mediated hormones and external stimuli. In addition, heavy metals could exert a direct effect on different aspects of signal transduction pathways.


Heavy Metal PC12 Cell Sarcoplasmic Reticulum Marine Organism Digestive Gland 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Viarengo
    • 1
  1. 1.Istituto di Fisiologia GeneraleUniversità di GenovaGenovaItaly

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