Transport of thiol-conjugates of inorganic mercury in human retinal pigment epithelial cells


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Abstract

Inorganic mercury (Hg2+) is a prevalent environmental contaminant to which exposure to can damage rod photoreceptor cells and compromise scotopic vision. The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) likely plays a role in the ocular toxicity associated with Hg2+ exposure in that it mediates transport of substances to the photoreceptor cells. In order for Hg2+ to access photoreceptor cells, it must first be taken up by the RPE, possibly by mechanisms involving transporters of essential nutrients. In other epithelia, Hg2+, when conjugated to cysteine (Cys) or homocysteine (Hcy), gains access to the intracellular compartment of the target cells via amino acid and organic anion transporters. Accordingly, the purpose of the current study was to test the hypothesis that Cys and Hcy S-conjugates of Hg2+ utilize amino acid transporters to gain access into RPE cells. Time- and temperature-dependence, saturation kinetics, and substrate-specificity of the transport of Hg2+, was assessed in ARPE-19 cells exposed to the following S-conjugates of Hg2+: Cys (Cys-S-Hg-S-Cys), Hcy (Hcy-S-Hg-S-Hcy), N-acetylcysteine (NAC-S-Hg-S-NAC) or glutathione (GSH-S-Hg-S-GSH). We discovered that only Cys-S-Hg-S-Cys and Hcy-S-Hg-S-Hcy were taken up by these cells. This transport was Na+-dependent and was inhibited by neutral and cationic amino acids. RT-PCR analyses identified systems B0,+ and ASC in ARPE-19 cells. Overall, our data suggest that Cys-S-Hg-S-Cys and Hcy-S-Hg-S-Hcy are taken up into ARPE-19 cells by Na-dependent amino acid transporters, possibly systems B0,+ and ASC. These amino acid transporters may play a role in the retinal toxicity observed following exposure to mercury.

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