Protein binding of mercury in milk and plasma from mice and man - A comparison between methylmercury and inorganic mercury

Johanna Sundberg, Bo Ersson, Bo Lönnerdal, Agneta Oskarsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Inorganic mercury has previously been shown to be excreted to milk from plasma to a higher extent than methylmercury. Protein binding of mercury as methylmercury and inorganic mercury in whey and plasma from mouse and man was studied in order to get a better understanding of the transport of mercury into milk. Mice were administered a single i.v. dose of 0.25 mg Hg/kg body weight labelled with CH3 203HgCl or 203HgCl2, resulting in 11 ng Hg/g milk and 38 ng Hg/g milk after 1 h, respectively. Milk and plasma from mice and man were also incubated with the respective radiolabelled compound (150 ng Hg/g milk or plasma). Casein, fat and whey fractions in milk from methylmercury treated mice were found to contain 11, 39 and 34%, respectively, and from inorganic mercury treated mice 31, 15 and 41%, respectively, of the total amount of mercury in milk. Serum albumin was a major mercury binding protein in whey and plasma from mice for both methylmercury and inorganic mercury, as demonstrated by FPLC gel filtration and anion-exchange chromatography and further characterised by SDS-PAGE for whey. In addition, anion-exchange chromatography indicated that inorganic mercury, but not methylmercury, in whey from mouse milk formed a dimer of serum albumin. The unbound fraction of mercury in whey and plasma from mice was very small (<0.7%), and somewhat higher in plasma and whey from man. It is concluded, that the unbound fraction in plasma cannot be a determining factor for the observed differences in milk excretion between the two mercury compounds. Instead, it is suggested that methylmercury and to some extent inorganic mercury are transferred from plasma into milk using albumin as a passive carrier. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-184
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1 1999


  • Inorganic mercury
  • Mercury-binding proteins
  • Methylmercury
  • Milk
  • Plasma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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