Adverse effects of methylmercury on gut bacteria and accelerated accumulation of mercury in organs due to disruption of gut microbiota

Natsumi Seki, Masahiro Akiyama, Hiroto Yamakawa, Koji Hase, Yoshito Kumagai, Yun Gi Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Methylmercury (MeHg), an environmental electrophile, binds covalently to the cysteine residues of proteins in organs, altering protein function and causing cytotoxicity. MeHg has also been shown to alter the composition of gut microbes. The gut microbiota is a complex community, the distur-bance of which has been linked to the development of certain diseases. However, the relationship between MeHg and gut bacteria remains poorly understood. In this study, we showed that MeHg binds covalently to gut bacterial proteins via cysteine residues. We examined the effects of MeHg on the growth of select-ed Lactobacillus species, namely, L. reuteri, L. gasseri, L. casei, and L. acidophilus, that are frequent-ly either positively or negatively correlated with human diseases. The results revealed that MeHg inhibits the growth of Lactobacillus to varying degrees depending on the species. Furthermore, the growth of L. reuteri, which was inhibited by MeHg exposure, was restored by Na2 S2 treatment. By comparing mice with and without gut microbiota colonization, we found that gut bacteria contribute to the production of reactive sulfur species such as hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen persulfide in the gut. We also discovered that the removal of gut bacteria accelerated accumulation of mercury in the cerebellum, liver, and lungs of mice subsequent to MeHg exposure. These results accordingly indicate that MeHg is captured and inacti-vated by the hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen persulfide produced by intestinal microbes, thereby providing evidence for the role played by gut microbiota in reducing MeHg toxicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-97
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Toxicological Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Electrophilic modification
  • Gut bacteria
  • Methylmercury
  • Reactive sulfur species

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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