The developing cortical neurons have been well documented to be extremely vulnerable to the toxic effect of methylmercury (MeHg). In the present study, a possible involvement of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in MeHg neurotoxicity was examined because the sensitivity of cortical neurons to NMDA neurotoxicity has a similar developmental profile. Rats on postnatal day 2 (P2), P16, and P60 were orally administered MeHg (10 mg/kg) for 7 consecutive days. The most severe neuronal damage was observed in the occipital cortex of P16 rats. When MK-801 (0.1 mg/kg), a non-competitive antagonist of NMDA, was administered intraperitoneally with MeHg, MeHg-induced neurodegeneration was markedly ameliorated. Furthermore, there was a marked accumulation of nitrotyrosine, a reaction product of peroxynitrite and L-tyrosine, after chronic treatment of MeHg in the occipital cortex of P16 rats. The accumulation of nitrotyrosine was also significantly suppressed by MK-801. In the present electrophysiological study, the amplitude of synaptic responses mediated by NMDA receptors recorded in cortical neurons of P16 rats was significantly larger than those from P2 and P60 rats. These observations strongly suggest that a generation of peroxynitrite through activation of NMDA receptors is a major causal factor for MeHg neurotoxicity in the developing cortical neurons. Furthermore, enhanced sensitivity of NMDA receptors may make the cortical neurons of P16 rats most susceptible to MeHg neurotoxicity.
- NMDA receptor
- Occipital cortex