2021 Volume 46 Issue 2 Pages 91-97
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 disturbance 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 selected Lactobacillus species, namely, L. reuteri, L. gasseri, L. casei, and L. acidophilus, that are frequently 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 Na2S2 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 inactivated 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.