CrossRef enabled

PAC Archives

Archive →

Pure Appl. Chem., 2009, Vol. 81, No. 1, pp. 153-167


Immunological effects of mercury (IUPAC Technical Report)

Michael Schwenk1, Reinhild Klein2 and Douglas M. Templeton3

1 Landesgesundheitsamt, Abt. Umwelthygiene, Toxikologie, Wiederholdstr. 15, 70174 Stuttgart, Germany
2 Medizinische Universitätsklinik Tübingen, Abt. II, Otfried-Müller-Str. 10, 72076 Tübingen, Germany
3 Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto, 1 King's College Circle, Toronto, M5S 1A8, Canada

Abstract: Various chemical species of mercury differ considerably with regard to their route of absorption and their distribution in the body, yet many of them and their metabolites exhibit high-affinity binding to sulfanyl groups of proteins. Among all metals, mercury appears to have the most diverse effects on the immune system. Depending on the animal species and experimental conditions, mercury compounds may cause immunosuppression or immunostimulation, autoimmune reactions, or hypersensitivity. Mercury-sensitive strains of rats and mice are often used as model organisms to study the time course and events in autoimmunity. Within about 14 days after onset of oral mercury(II) exposure, levels of immunoglobulins E and G (IgE and IgG) increase, including autoantibodies to biomolecules such as laminin and fibrillarin. Antigen-antibody complexes are formed and are the cause of subsequent autoimmune diseases of blood vessels and organs. Mercury may induce local mercury hypersensitivity in humans, but the evidence for a role of mercury in autoimmune disease of humans is at best weak. Models for the immune effects of mercury are presented on the basis of current knowledge.