Systemic autoimmunity due to mercury vapor exposure in genetically susceptible mice: dose-response studies

K Warfvinge, H Hansson, P Hultman
Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 1995, 132 (2): 299-309
Six groups of genetically mercury-susceptible female SJL/N (H-2s) mice were exposed to mercury vapor at a concentration of 0.3-1.0 mg Hg/m3 air for 0.5-19 hr/day 5 days a week for 10 weeks. The absorbed doses were calculated to be between 75 and 2365 micrograms Hg/week/kg body wt (micrograms Hg/week/kg). The correlation between the dose and the concentration of Hg in kidney, spleen, and thymus was highly significant (p < 0.0001; Spearman's rank correlation test). The lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) for serum IgG antinucleolar antibodies (ANoA) was 170 micrograms Hg/week/kg, corresponding to a renal mercury concentration of 4.0 +/- 0.76 micrograms Hg/g wet wt. The correlation between the absorbed dose and the ANoA titer was highly significant (p < 0.0001; Spearman's rank correlation test), and all mice were ANoA-positive at a dose of 480 micrograms Hg/week/kg. High-titer ANoA targeted the nucleolar 34-kDa protein fibrillarin. The LOAEL for B-cell stimulation, measured as an increase in serum IgG2a and IgG1 concentrations, was 360 micrograms Hg/week/kg, but the increase was fivefold higher and also included IgE at a dose of 690 and 2365 micrograms Hg/week/kg. The serum Ig concentrations peaked after 2-4 weeks and then slowly declined but, except for IgE, remained significantly increased during the entire exposure time. Glomerular, mesangial IgG immune complex (IC) deposits, accompanied by systemic vessel wall IC deposits, were first detected at a dose of 480 micrograms Hg/week/kg. The mesangium also showed increased titers of IgM IC deposits and complement factor C3c. The correlation between the absorbed dose, and the individual titer of IgG, IgM, and C3c, was highly significant (p < 0.0001; Spearman's rank correlation test). In conclusion, mercury vapor efficiently induced an autoimmune syndrome in genetically susceptible mice, and the LOAEL for the adverse effects varied in the order ANoA < B-cell stimulation < IC deposits. Comparing the body burden of mercury in mice at the LOAEL for autoantibodies with the body burden in populations of occupationally exposed humans suggests that the safety margin may be narrow for genetically susceptible individuals.

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