In vitro assessment of the efficacy of a macrocyclic chelator in reversing methylmercury toxicity

Paula Nobre, Maria de Fátima Cabral, Judite Costa, Margarida Castro-Caldas, Cristina Carvalho, Vasco Branco

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Methylmercury (MeHg) is a highly neurotoxic compound to which human populations are exposed via fish consumption. Once in cells, MeHg actively binds thiols and selenols, interfering with the activity of redox enzymes such as thioredoxin (Trx) and the selenoenzyme thioredoxin reductase (TrxR) which integrate the thioredoxin system. In fact, it has been shown that inhibition of this system by MeHg is a critical step in the unfolding of cell death. Current clinical approaches to mitigate the toxicity of MeHg rely on the use of chelators, such as meso-2,3-dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) which largely replaced British anti-Lewisite or 2,3-dimercapto-1-propanol (BAL) as the prime choice. However, therapeutic efficacy is limited and therefore new therapeutic options are necessary. In this work, we evaluated the efficacy of a macrocyclic chelator, 1-thia-4,7,10,13-tetraazacyclopentadecane ([15]aneN4S), in preventing MeHg toxicity, namely by looking at the effects over relevant molecular targets, i.e., the thioredoxin system, using both purified enzyme solutions and cell experiments with human neuroblastoma cells (SH-SY5Y). Results showed that [15]aneN4S had a similar efficacy to DMSA and BAL in reversing the inhibition of MeHg over purified TrxR and Trx by looking at both the 5,5-dithiobis(2-nitrobenzoic acid) (DTNB) reduction assay and insulin reduction capability. In experiments with cells, none of the chelating agents could reverse the inhibition of TrxR by MeHg, which corroborates the high affinity of MeHg to the selenol in TrxR active site. [15]aneN4S and BAL, unlike DMSA, could prevent inhibition of Trx, which allows the maintenance of downstream functions, although BAL showed higher toxicity to cells. Overall these findings highlight the potential of using [15]aneN4S in the treatment of MeHg poisoning and encourage further studies, namely in vivo.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4817
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2019


  • Chelators
  • Clinical toxicology
  • Methylmercury
  • Thioredoxin
  • Thioredoxin reductase


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