Glutathione antioxidant system and methylmercury-induced neurotoxicity: An intriguing interplay

Marcelo Farina, Michael Aschner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Methylmercury (MeHg) is a toxic chemical compound naturally produced mainly in the aquatic environment through the methylation of inorganic mercury catalyzed by aquatic microorganisms. MeHg is biomagnified in the aquatic food chain and, consequently, piscivorous fish at the top of the food chain possess huge amounts of MeHg (at the ppm level). Some populations that have fish as main protein's source can be exposed to exceedingly high levels of MeHg and develop signs of toxicity. MeHg is toxic to several organs, but the central nervous system (CNS) represents a preferential target, especially during development (prenatal and early postnatal periods). Though the biochemical events involved in MeHg-(neuro)toxicity are not yet entirely comprehended, a vast literature indicates that its pro-oxidative properties explain, at least partially, several of its neurotoxic effects. As result of its electrophilicity, MeHg interacts with (and oxidize) nucleophilic groups, such as thiols and selenols, present in proteins or low-molecular weight molecules. It is noteworthy that such interactions modify the redox state of these groups and, therefore, lead to oxidative stress and impaired function of several molecules, culminating in neurotoxicity. Among these molecules, glutathione (GSH; a major thiol antioxidant) and thiol- or selenol-containing enzymes belonging to the GSH antioxidant system represent key molecular targets involved in MeHg-neurotoxicity. In this review, we firstly present a general overview concerning the neurotoxicity of MeHg. Then, we present fundamental aspects of the GSH-antioxidant system, as well as the effects of MeHg on this system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number129285
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - General Subjects
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2019


  • Antioxidant system
  • Glutathione
  • Methylmercury
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Selenols
  • Thiols

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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