Developmental methylmercury administration alters cerebellar PSA-NCAM expression and Golgi sialyltransferase activity

P. Markus Dey, Michael Gochfeld, Kenneth R. Reuhl

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34 Scopus citations


Brain dysmorphogenesis and persistent psychomotor disturbances are hallmarks of developmental methylmercury (MeHg) exposure, but the molecular mechanisms underlying these effects are poorly understood. Targets of developmental MeHg exposure include neural cell adhesion molecules (NCAMs), sialoglycoconjugate molecules whose proper temporal and spatial expression is important at all stages of neurodevelopment and especially during synaptic structuring. To investigate the effects of MeHg on the temporal expression of NCAM during development, rat pups were dosed with 7.0 mg/kg MeHgCl (s.c.) on alternate days from postnatal days (PNDs) 3-13 and killed on PNDs 15, 30 and 60. Brain MeHg concentrations were determined in a subset of litters injected with CH3203Hg. Expression of NCAM180 protein and of NCAM180 polysialylation was examined in whole cerebellum homogenates, cerebellar synaptosomes and isolated cerebellar growth cones by Western blotting and immunocytochemical staining. NCAM sialyltransferase activity was assayed in preparations of purified Golgi apparatus from the cerebelli of rats treated in vivo, or following in vitro incubation with 0, 1, 2.5, or 7.5 μM MeHg for 2 h. At PND15, no change in NCAM180 protein expression was observed in any cerebellar preparations, but decreased polysialylation of NCAM180 was observed in cerebellar whole homogenates, synaptosomes and isolated growth cones. At PND30, both NCAM180 protein expression and NCAM180 polysialylation were elevated in whole homogenate preparations but not in synaptosomes. NCAM180 expression in MeHg-treated rats was similar to controls at PND60, 47 days after the last methylmercury administration. In vivo studies of cerebellar Golgi sialyltransferase activity revealed significant reductions in PND15 MeHg-treated rats as compared to controls, but no changes in sialyltransferase activity in PND30 and PND60 animals. In vitro experiments revealed decreasing sensitivity of cerebellar sialyltransferases to MeHg as the developmental age of the rat increased. Toxic perturbation of the developmentally-regulated expression of polysialylated NCAM during brain formation may disturb the stereotypic formation of neuronal contacts and could contribute to the behavioral and morphological disturbances observed following MeHg poisoning. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-151
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 23 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Developmental Biology


  • Cerebellum
  • Development
  • Methylmercury
  • Neural cell adhesion molecule
  • Polysialylation
  • Sialyltransferase


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