The effect of maternal selenium deficiency on methyl mercury fetotoxicity was examined in the ICR strain of mice. Pregnant mice were fed either selenium-deficient diets based on torula yeast or selenium-supplemented diets which were identical to the former except that 0.1, 0.2, or 0.4 mg of selenium per kilogram of diet was added as sodium selenite. Fetolethality of methyl mercury was exacerbated by maternal selenium deficiency when mothers were administered sc 15, 25, or 35 μmol/kg/day of methylmercuric chloride (MMC) on the 13, 14, and 15th days of pregnancy. One-tenth part per million of selenium in the diet was sufficient to protect the fetuses against MMC fetolethality when dams were administered 25 μmol/kg/day of MMC. Mercury concentrations in maternal and fetal tissues were independent of the dietary selenium level. Selenium concentration and glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px) activity in maternal tissues were unaffected by MMC administration. In fetal liver, on the other hand, selenium concentration was increased and GSH-Px activity was decreased concurrently by maternal MMC administration in the selenium-supplemented groups. Therefore, as far as GSH-Px activity was concerned, the bioavailability of selenium was markedly decreased in fetal liver by maternal injection of MMC. The increase in selenium content in fetal liver, which was observed only in the selenium-supplemented groups, may play an important role in protection against fetolethal toxicity of MMC.
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