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Keywords:

  • dental amalgam;
  • methylmercury;
  • ethylmercury;
  • biological monitoring

Abstract

Today the most widespread human exposures to mercury are to mercury vapor emitted from amalgam tooth fillings, to ethylmercury as a preservative in vaccines, and to methylmercury in edible tissues of fish. This review will focus on the mechanisms of transport of these three species of mercury. All three species are freely moveable throughout the body. Inhaled vapor in view of its physical properties as an uncharged atomic gas is believed to be transported by passive diffusion. Methylmercury and ethylmercury also move freely in the body. Methylmercury, and presumably its closely related chemical cousin ethylmercury, cross cell membranes as complexes with small molecular weight thiol compounds, entering the cell in part as a cysteine complex on the large neutral amino acid carriers and exiting the cell in part as a complex with reduced glutathione on endogenous carriers. The implications of these mechanisms with regard to biological monitoring are discussed. Am. J. Ind. Med. 50:757–764, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.