Methylmercury elicits rapid inhibition of cell proliferation in the developing brain and decreases cell cycle regulator, cyclin E

Kelly Burke, Yinghong Cheng, Baogang Li, Alex Petrov, Pushkar Joshi, Robert F Berman, Kenneth R. Reuhl, Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


The developing brain is highly sensitive to methylmercury (MeHg). Still, the initial changes in cell proliferation that may contribute to long-term MeHg effects are largely undefined. Our previous studies with growth factors indicate that acute alterations of the G1/S-phase transition can permanently affect cell numbers and organ size. Therefore, we determined whether an environmental toxicant could also impact brain development with rapid (6-7 h) effects on DNA synthesis and cell cycle machinery in neuronal precursors. In vivo studies in newborn rat hippocampus and cerebellum, two regions of postnatal neurogenesis, were followed by in vitro analysis of two precursor models, cortical and cerebellar cells, focusing on the proteins that regulate the G1/S transition. In postnatal day 7 (P7) pups, a single subcutaneous injection of MeHg (3 μg/g) acutely (7 h) decreased DNA synthesis in the hippocampus by 40% and produced long-term (2 weeks) reductions in total cell number, estimated by DNA quantification. Surprisingly, cerebellar granule cells were resistant to MeHg effects in vivo at comparable tissue concentrations, suggesting region-specific differences in precursor populations. In vitro, MeHg altered proliferation and cell viability, with DNA synthesis selectively inhibited at an early timepoint (6 h) corresponding to our in vivo observations. Considering that G1/S regulators are targets of exogenous signals, we used a well-defined cortical cell model to examine MeHg effects on relevant cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK) and CDK inhibitors. At 6 h, MeHg decreased by 75% levels of cyclin E, a cell cycle regulator with roles in proliferation and apoptosis, without altering p57, p27, or CDK2 nor levels of activated caspase 3. In aggregate, our observations identify the G1/S transition as an early target of MeHg toxicity and raise the possibility that cyclin E degradation contributes to both decreased proliferation and eventual cell death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)970-981
Number of pages12
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2006


  • Cell cycle
  • Cell survival
  • Cerebellar granule precursors
  • Cerebral cortex
  • Cyclin E
  • Hippocampus
  • Mercury
  • Neural stem cell
  • Neurogenesis
  • Proliferation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Toxicology


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