Methylmercury-induced neural degeneration in rat dorsal root ganglion is associated with the accumulation of microglia/macrophages and the proliferation of Schwann cells

Yo Shinoda, Shunsuke Ehara, Satoshi Tatsumi, Eiko Yoshida, Tsutomu Takahashi, Komyo Eto, Toshiyuki Kaji, Yasuyuki Fujiwara
Journal of Toxicological Sciences 2019, 44 (3): 191-199
Exposure to organic mercury, especially methylmercury (MeHg), causes Minamata disease, a severe chronic neurological disorder. Minamata disease predominantly affects the central nervous system, and therefore, studies on the mechanisms of MeHg neurotoxicity have focused primarily on the brain. Although the peripheral nervous system is also affected by the organometallic compound and shows signs of neural degeneration, the mechanisms of peripheral MeHg neurotoxicity remain unclear. In the present study, we performed quantitative immunohistochemical analyses of the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) and associated sensory and motor fibers to clarify the mechanisms of MeHg-induced peripheral neurotoxicity in Wistar rats. Methylmercury chloride (6.7 mg/kg/day) was orally administrated for 5 days, followed by 2 days without administration, and this cycle was repeated once again. Seven and 14 days after the beginning of MeHg exposure, rats were anesthetized, and their DRGs and sensory and motor nerve fibers were removed and processed for immunohistochemical analyses. The frozen sections were immunostained for neuronal, Schwann cell, microglial and macrophage markers. DRG sensory neuron somata and axons showed significant degeneration on day 14. At the same time, an accumulation of microglia and the infiltration of macrophages were observed in the DRGs and sensory nerve fibers. In addition, MeHg caused significant Schwann cell proliferation in the sensory nerve fibers. In comparison, there was no noticeable change in the motor fibers. Our findings suggest that in the peripheral nervous system, MeHg toxicity is associated with neurodegenerative changes to DRG sensory neurons and the induction of a neuroprotective and/or enhancement of neurodegenerative host response.

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