Methylmercury Induces Mitochondria-and Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress-Dependent Pancreatic β-Cell Apoptosis via an Oxidative Stress-Mediated JNK Signaling Pathway

Ching Yao Yang, Shing Hwa Liu, Chin Chuan Su, Kai Min Fang, Tsung Yuan Yang, Jui Ming Liu, Ya Wen Chen, Kai Chih Chang, Haw Ling Chuang, Cheng Tien Wu, Kuan I. Lee*, Chun Fa Huang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Methylmercury (MeHg), a long-lasting organic pollutant, is known to induce cytotoxic effects in mammalian cells. Epidemiological studies have suggested that environmental exposure to MeHg is linked to the development of diabetes mellitus (DM). The exact molecular mechanism of MeHg-induced pancreatic β-cell cytotoxicity is still unclear. Here, we found that MeHg (1–4 µM) significantly decreased insulin secretion and cell viability in pancreatic β-cell-derived RIN-m5F cells. A concomitant elevation of mitochondrial-dependent apoptotic events was observed, including decreased mitochondrial membrane potential and increased proapoptotic (Bax, Bak, p53)/antiapoptotic (Bcl-2) mRNA ratio, cytochrome c release, annexin V-Cy3 binding, caspase-3 activity, and caspase-3/-7/-9 activation. Exposure of RIN-m5F cells to MeHg (2 µM) also induced protein expression of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress-related signaling molecules, including C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP), X-box binding protein (XBP-1), and caspase-12. Pretreatment with 4-phenylbutyric acid (4-PBA; an ER stress inhibitor) and specific siRNAs for CHOP and XBP-1 significantly inhibited their expression and caspase-3/-12 activation in MeHg-exposed RIN-mF cells. MeHg could also evoke c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) activation and reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. Antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC; 1mM) or 6-hydroxy-2,5,7,8-tetramethylchroman-2-carboxylic acid (trolox; 100 µM) markedly prevented MeH-induced ROS generation and decreased cell viability in RIN-m5F cells. Furthermore, pretreatment of cells with SP600125 (JNK inhibitor; 10 µM) or NAC (1 mM) or transfection with JNK-specific siRNA obviously attenuated the MeHg-induced JNK phosphorylation, CHOP and XBP-1 protein expression, apoptotic events, and insulin secretion dysfunction. NAC significantly inhibited MeHg-activated JNK signaling, but SP600125 could not effectively reduce MeHg-induced ROS generation. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that the induction of ROS-activated JNK signaling is a crucial mechanism underlying MeHg-induced mitochondria-and ER stress-dependent apoptosis, ultimately leading to β-cell death.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2858
JournalInternational Journal Of Molecular Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • Apoptosis
  • C-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK)
  • ER stress
  • Methylmercury
  • Oxidative stress
  • Pancreatic β-cells


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