• Article

Mercury vapor and female reproductive toxicity

Epidemiological studies finding menstrual cycle abnormalities among women occupationally exposed to Hg degrees prompted us to investigate the mechanisms of reproductive toxicity of Hg degrees in the female rat. Nose-only Hg degrees vapor inhalation exposures were conducted on regularly cycling rats 80-90 days of age in dose-response and acute time-course studies, which have previously proven useful as a model to identify ovarian toxicants. Vaginal smears were evaluated daily and serum hormone levels were correlated with cycle and with ovarian morphology at necropsy. Exposure concentration-related effects of Hg degrees were evaluated by exposing rats to 0, 1, 2, or 4 mg/m3 Hg degrees vapor 2 h/day for 11 consecutive days. Tissue Hg levels correlated with exposure concentration and duration. Exposure of rats to 4 mg/m3 (but not 1 or 2 mg/m3) Hg vapor for 11 days resulted in significant decreases in body weights relative to controls. Estrous cycles were slightly prolonged in the 2 and 4 mg/m3 dose groups, and serum estradiol and progesterone levels were significantly different in the 4 mg/m3 group compared to controls. The alterations in cycle and hormones at the 4 mg/m3 exposure concentration were attributed to body weight loss and generalized toxicity. In the time-course study, rats were exposed to 2 mg/m3 Hg degrees or air beginning in metestrus and evaluated daily for 8 days. A lengthening of the cycle was detected and morphological changes were observed in the corpora lutea (CL) after exposure for 6 days. To determine if changes in the CL and cyclicity correlated with a functional defect, rats were exposed to Hg degrees vapor and evaluated for pregnancy outcome. There were no significant effects on pregnancy rate or numbers of implantation sites when rats were exposed to 1 or 2 mg/m3 Hg degrees for 8 days prior to breeding, or when exposed for 8 days after breeding. These studies indicate that exposure to Hg degrees vapor altered estrous cyclicity, but had no significant effect on ovulation, implantation, or maintenance of first pregnancy during exposure of short duration in female rats


Davis, BJ., Price, HC., O'Connor, RW., Fernando, R., Rowland, AS., & Morgan, DL. (2001). Mercury vapor and female reproductive toxicity. Toxicological Sciences, 59(2), 291-296.