Methylmercury is an environmental pollutant that causes specific and serious damage to the central nervous system. We have previously shown that C-C motif chemokine ligand 4 (CCL4) protects cultured neural cells from methylmercury toxicity and expression of CCL4 is specifically induced in mouse brain by methylmercury. In this study, we examined the transcriptional regulatory mechanism that induces CCL4 expression by methylmercury using C17.2 mouse neural stem cells. The promoter region of the CCL4 gene was analyzed by a reporter assay, revealing that the region up to 50 bp upstream from the transcription start site was necessary for inducing expression of CCL4 by methylmercury. Nine transcription factors that might bind to this upstream region and be involved in the induction of CCL4 expression by methylmercury were selected, and the induction of CCL4 expression by methylmercury was suppressed by the knockdown of serum response factor (SRF). In addition, the nuclear level of SRF was elevated by methylmercury, and an increase in the amount bound to the CCL4 gene promoter was also observed. Furthermore, we examined the upstream signaling pathway involved in the induction of CCL4 expression by SRF, and confirmed that activation of p38 and ERK, which are part of the MAPK pathway, are involved. These results suggest that methylmercury induces the expression of CCL4 by activating SRF via the p38 and ERK signaling pathway. Our findings are important for elucidating the mechanism involved in the brain-specific induction of CCL4 expression by methylmercury.
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