Prenatal low-dose methylmercury exposure impairs neurite outgrowth and synaptic protein expression and suppresses TrkA pathway activity and eEF1A1 expression in the rat cerebellum

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Methylmercury (MeHg) is a highly neurotoxic environmental chemical that can cause developmental impairments. Human fetuses and neonates are particularly susceptible to MeHg toxicity; however, the mechanisms governing its effects in the developing brain are unclear. In the present study, we investigated the effects of prenatal and lactational MeHg exposure on the developing cerebellum in rats. We demonstrated that exposure to 5 ppm MeHg decreased postnatal expression of pre- and postsynaptic proteins, suggesting an impairment in synaptic development. MeHg exposure also reduced neurite outgrowth, as shown by a decrease in the expression of the neurite marker neurofilament H. These changes were not observed in rats exposed to 1 ppm MeHg. In order to define the underlying mechanism, we investigated the effects of MeHg exposure on the tropomyosin receptor kinase (Trk) A pathway, which plays important roles in neuronal differentiation and synapse formation. We demonstrated suppression of the TrkA pathway on gestation day 20 in rats exposed to 5 ppm MeHg. In addition, down-regulation of eukaryotic elongation factor 1A1 (eEF1A1) was observed on postnatal day 1. eEF1A1 knockdown in differentiating PC12 cells impaired neurite outgrowth and synaptic protein expression, similar to the results of MeHg exposure in the cerebellum. These results suggest that suppression of the TrkA pathway and subsequent decreases in eEF1A1 expression induced by prenatal exposure to MeHg may lead to reduced neurite outgrowth and synaptic protein expression in the developing cerebellum.

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