Methylmercury Induces Metabolic Alterations in Caenorhabditis elegans: Role for C/EBP Transcription Factor

Samuel W. Caito, Jennifer Newell-Caito, Megan Martell, Nicole Crawford, Michael Aschner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Methylmercury (MeHg) is a well-known neurotoxicant; however, its role in metabolic diseases has been gaining wider attention. We have previously shown that MeHg causes metabolic alterations in Caenorhabditis elegans, leading to decreased nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide cofactor, mitochondrial dysfunction, and oxidative stress. We were, therefore, interested in whether MeHg also affects nutrient metabolism, particularly lipid homeostasis, which may contribute to the development of metabolic conditions such as obesity or metabolic syndrome (MS). RNA from wild-type worms exposed to MeHg was collected immediately after treatment and used for gene expression analysis by DNA microarray. MeHg differentially regulated 215 genes, 17 genes involved in lipid homeostasis, and 12 genes involved in carbohydrate homeostasis. Of particular interest was cebp-1, the worm ortholog to human C/EBP, a pro-adipogenic transcription factor implicated in MS. MeHg increased the expression of cebp-1 as well as pro-adipogenic transcription factors sbp-1 and nhr-49, triglyceride synthesis enzyme acl-6, and lipid transport proteins vit-2 and vit-6. Concurrent with the altered gene expression, MeHg increased triglyceride levels, lipid storage, and feeding behaviors. Worms expressing mutant cebp-1 were protected from MeHg-induced alterations in lipid content, feeding behaviors, and gene expression, highlighting the importance of this transcription factor in the worm's response to MeHg. Taken together, our data demonstrate that MeHg induces biochemical, metabolic, and behavioral changes in C. elegans that can lead to metabolic dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-123
Number of pages12
JournalToxicological Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • C/EBP
  • cebp-1
  • lipid homeostasis
  • methylmercury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology

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