JV Task 96 - Phase 2 - Investigating the Importance of the Mercury-Selenium Interaction

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In order to improve the understanding of the mercury issue, it is vital to study mercury's effects on selenium physiology. While mercury present in the environment or food sources may pose health risks, the protective effects of selenium have not been adequately considered in establishing regulatory policy. Numerous studies report that vulnerability to mercury toxicity is inversely proportional to selenium status or level. However, selenium status has not been considered in the development of the reference dosage levels for mercury exposure. Experimental animals fed low-selenium diets are far more vulnerable to mercury toxicity than animals fed normal selenium, and animals ... continued below

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Ralston, Nicholas & Raymond, Laura March 1, 2008.

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In order to improve the understanding of the mercury issue, it is vital to study mercury's effects on selenium physiology. While mercury present in the environment or food sources may pose health risks, the protective effects of selenium have not been adequately considered in establishing regulatory policy. Numerous studies report that vulnerability to mercury toxicity is inversely proportional to selenium status or level. However, selenium status has not been considered in the development of the reference dosage levels for mercury exposure. Experimental animals fed low-selenium diets are far more vulnerable to mercury toxicity than animals fed normal selenium, and animals fed selenium-rich diets are even more resistant. Selenium-dependent enzymes in brain and endocrine tissues can be impaired by excessive mercury exposure, apparently because mercury has an extremely high binding affinity for selenium. When selenium becomes bound to mercury, it is unable to participate in the metabolic cycling of selenoprotein synthesis. Because of mercury-dependent impairments of selenoprotein synthesis, various antioxidant and regulatory functions in brain biochemistry are compromised. This report details a 2-year multiclient-funded research program designed to examine the interactions between mercury and selenium in animal models. The studies explored the effects of dietary intakes of toxic amounts of methylmercury and the protective effects of the normal dietary range of selenium in counteracting mercury toxicity. This study finds that the amounts of selenium present in ocean fish are sufficient to protect against far larger quantities of methylmercury than those present in typical seafoods. Toxic effects of methylmercury exposure were not directly proportional to mercury concentrations in blood, brain, or any other tissues. Instead, mercury toxicity was proportional to molar ratios of mercury relative to selenium. In order to accurately assess risk associated with methylmercury or mercury exposures, mercury-selenium ratios appear to be far more accurate and effective in identifying risk and protecting human and environmental health. This study also finds that methylmercury toxicity can be effectively treated by dietary selenium, preventing the death and progressive disabilities that otherwise occur in methylmercury-treated subjects. Remarkably, the positive response to selenium therapy was essentially equivalent regardless of whether or not toxic amounts of methylmercury were still administered. The findings of the Physiologically Oriented Integration of Nutrients and Toxins (POINT) models of the effects of mercury and selenium developed in this project are consistent with the hypothesis that mercury toxicity arises because of mercury-dependent inhibition of selenium availability in brain and endocrine tissues. This appears to occur through synergistic effects of mercury-dependent inhibition of selenium transport to these tissues and selective sequestration of the selenium present in the tissues. Compromised transport of selenium to the brain and endocrine tissues would be particularly hazardous to the developing fetus because the rapidly growing tissues of the child have no selenium reserves. Therefore, maternal consumption of foods with high mercury-selenium ratios is hazardous. In summation, methylmercury exposure is unlikely to cause harm in populations that eat selenium-rich diets but may cause harm among populations that consume certain foods that have methylmercury present in excess of selenium.

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  • Report No.: None
  • Grant Number: FC26-98FT40321
  • DOI: 10.2172/990812 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 990812
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc1012121

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Reports, articles and other documents harvested from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information.

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  • March 1, 2008

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Oct. 14, 2017, 8:36 a.m.

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  • Dec. 18, 2017, 6:11 p.m.

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Ralston, Nicholas & Raymond, Laura. JV Task 96 - Phase 2 - Investigating the Importance of the Mercury-Selenium Interaction, report, March 1, 2008; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1012121/: accessed September 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.