Human hair has unique advantages in monitoring environmental exposures to methylmercury. Using newborn Balb/c mice as a model system, the incorporation of methylmercury into the hair was studied and compared with methylmercury distributions in other tissues. Newborn mice were given intraperitoneal injections of203Hg-labeled methylmercury at designated times according to hair growth stages of the mouse. Animals were sacrificed 2 days after dosing. Distribution of mercury in pelt and other tissues was measured. The level of mercury in pelt was found to correlate with hair growth. The amount of mercury in pelt peaked when hair growth was most rapid and the total amount of mercury in pelt was significantly higher than that in other tissues, constituting 40% of the whole body burden. However, when the hair ceased growing, the amount of mercury in pelt dramatically dropped to 4% of whole body burden and mercury concentrations in other tissues except brain were elevated. Autoradiographic studies with tritium-labeled methylmercury demonstrated that methylmercury concentrated in hair follicles in the skin. Within hair follicles and hairs, methylmercury accumulated in regions that are rich in high-sulfur proteins. The uptake of inorganic mercury (administered as HgCl2) by pelt was also compared with that of methylmercury. The amount of inorganic mercury found in pelt was less than one-half that of methylmercury in animals with growing hair. Cessation of hair growth did not decrease the inorganic mercury level in pelt to the same extent as in the case of methylmercury. © 1990 Academic Press, Inc.
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