Methylmercury alters Eph and ephrin expression during neuronal differentiation of P19 embryonal carcinoma cells

D. T. Wilson, M. A. Polunas, R. Zhou, A. K. Halladay, H. E. Lowndes, K. R. Reuhl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Developmental exposure to methylmercury (MeHg) induces a spectrum of neurological impairment characterized by cognitive disturbance, sensory/motor deficit, and diffuse structural abnormalities of the brain. These alterations may arise from neural path-finding errors during brain development, resulting from disturbances in the function of morphoregulatory guidance molecules. The Eph family of tyrosine kinase receptors and their ligands, the ephrins, guide neuronal migration and neurite pathfinding mainly via repulsive intercellular interactions. The present study examined the effects of MeHg on mRNA and protein expression profiles of Ephs and ephrins in the P19 embryonal carcinoma (EC) cell line and its neuronal derivatives. Undifferentiated control P19 cells displayed low- to undetectable levels of mRNA for ephrins or Ephs, with the sole exception of EphA2 which was highly expressed. Upon differentiation into neurons, the ephrin expression increased progressively through day 10. Similarly, expression of the Ephs, including EphsA3, -A4, -A8, -B2, -B3, -B4, and -B6, increased significantly. In contrast, EphA2 expression decreased in day 2, 6 and 10 control neurons. Treatment with MeHg did not affect the expression of mRNA for ephrins or Ephs in undifferentiated P19 cells. However, treatment of differentiating neurons with MeHg for 24 h caused consistent increases in ligand mRNA expression, particularly ephrin-A5, -A6, -B1, and -B2. Similarly, MeHg induced variable increases in mRNA expression of receptors EphA2, -A3, -B3, and -B6. A trend toward a concentration-response relationship was observed for the alterations in Eph receptor mRNA expression although increases at the low and mid concentrations did not reach statistical significance. Immunoblots for ligand and receptor proteins mirrored the increases in the mRNA levels at the 0.5 and 1.5 μM MeHg concentrations but showed decreased protein levels compared to controls at the 3.0 μM concentration. Alterations in the Eph/ephrin family of repulsion molecules may represent an important mechanism in developmental MeHg neurotoxicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)661-674
Number of pages14
Issue number4 SPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - Aug 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Toxicology


  • Embryonal carcinoma
  • Eph
  • Ephrin
  • Methylmercury
  • Neurons
  • Tyrosine kinase receptors


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