Methylmercuric chloride induces activation of neuronal stress circuitry and alters exploratory behavior in the mouse

J. F. Cooper, A. W. Kusnecov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Methylmercury (MeHg) is a well-known neurotoxicant, responsible for neurological and cognitive alterations. However, there is very little information available on the effects of MeHg administration on activation of murine neuronal pathways involved in the stress response, and whether this is altered as a function of repeated exposure to MeHg. Moreover, interactions between MeHg and other psychogenic and inflammatory stressors have yet to be fully determined. Acute i.p. exposure of male C57BL/6J mice to MeHg (2-8 mg/kg) dose-dependently attenuated exploratory behavior in the open field in the presence and absence of a novel object. In addition, increased numbers of c-Fos immunoreactive cells appeared in response to acute i.p. and i.c.v. MeHg within thalamic (anterior paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVA)/posterior paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PV)), hypothalamic (paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN)), central amygdaloid nucleus (CeC), septal and hippocampal (dentate gyrus) nuclei, medial bed nucleus (BSTm) and the locus coeruleus (Lc). The increase in c-Fos positive cells in response to acute i.p. and i.c.v. MeHg did not appear to be influenced further by open field exposure. Repeated administration of MeHg led to an attenuation of most parameters of open field behavior altered by acute MeHg. However, increased c-Fos was significant in the CeC, Dg, supracapsular bed nucleus (BSTs), and Lc. Moreover, open field exposure after repeated treatments resulted in significant c-Fos responses in similar areas. Interestingly, 3 days after the final repeated MeHg dose (2 or 4 mg/kg) c-Fos increases to an immunogenic stressor (LPS) were not affected by MeHg pretreatment. These results demonstrate that systemic exposure to acute and repeated MeHg serves to activate the brain's stress circuitry, and furthermore appears to engage normal neuronal habituation processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1048-1064
Number of pages17
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 21 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


  • brain
  • c-Fos
  • lipopolysaccharide
  • methylmercury
  • mouse
  • stress


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