Background: Methylmercury (MeHg) exhibits neurotoxicity through accumulation in the brain. The transcription factor Nrf2 (nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2) plays an important role in reducing the cellular accumulation of MeHg.
Objectives: We investigated the protective effect of isothiocyanates, which are known to activate Nrf2, on the accumulation of mercury after exposure to MeHg in vitro and in vivo.
Methods: We used primary mouse hepatocytes in in vitro experiments and mice as an in vivo model. We used Western blotting, luciferase assays, atomic absorption spectrometry assays, and MTT [3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide] assays, and we identified toxicity in mice based on hind-limb flaccidity and mortality.
Results: The isothiocyanates 6-methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate (6-HITC) and sulforaphane (SFN) activated Nrf2 and up-regulated downstream proteins associated with MeHg excretion, such as glutamate-cysteine ligase, glutathione S-transferase, and multidrug resistance–associated protein, in primary mouse hepatocytes. Under these conditions, intracellular glutathione levels increased in wild-type but not Nrf2-deficient primary mouse hepatocytes. Pretreatment with 6-HITC and SFN before MeHg exposure suppressed cellular accumulation of mercury and cytotoxicity in wild-type but not Nrf2-deficient primary mouse hepatocytes. In comparison, in vivo administration of MeHg to Nrf2-deficient mice resulted in increased sensitivity to mercury concomitant with an increase in mercury accumulation in the brain and liver. Injection of SFN before administration of MeHg resulted in a decrease in mercury accumulation in the brain and liver of wild-type, but not Nrf2-deficient, mice.
Conclusions: Through activation of Nrf2, 6-HITC and SFN can suppress mercury accumulation and intoxication caused by MeHg intake.