Methylmercury causes serious damage to the central nervous system, but the molecular mechanisms of methylmercury toxicity are only marginally understood. In this study, we used a gene-deletion mutant library of budding yeast to conduct genome-wide screening for gene knockouts affecting the sensitivity of methylmercury toxicity. We successfully identified 31 genes whose deletions confer resistance to methylmercury in yeast, and 18 genes whose deletions confer hypersensitivity to methylmercury. Yeast genes whose deletions conferred resistance to methylmercury included many gene encoding factors involved in protein transport to vacuoles. Detailed examination of the relationship between the factors involved in this transport system and methylmercury toxicity revealed that mutants with loss of the factors involved in the transportation pathway from the trans-Golgi network (TGN) to the endosome, protein uptake into the endosome, and endosome-vacuole fusion showed higher methylmercury resistance than did wild-type yeast. The results of our genetic engineering study suggest that this vesicle transport system (proteins moving from the TGN to vacuole via endosome) is responsible for enhancing methylmercury toxicity due to the interrelationship between the pathways. There is a possibility that there may be proteins in the cell that enhance methylmercury toxicity through the protein transport system.
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