31 No. 3
Immunological Effects of Mercury (IUPAC Technical Report)
by Michael Schwenk, Reinhild Klein, and Douglas M. Templeton
Pure and Applied Chemistry, 2009
Vol. 81, No. 1, pp. 153–167
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 the 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 mercury’s role in autoimmune disease in humans is weak at best. Models for the immune effects of mercury are presented on the basis of current knowledge.
This report completes a project of the Chemistry and Human Health Division on the immunochemistry of metal sensitization (project 1999-047-1-700).
last modified 28 April 2009.
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