Increased susceptibility to ethylmercury-induced mitochondrial dysfunction in a subset of autism lymphoblastoid cell lines.
J Toxicol. 2015 ;2015:573701. Epub 2015 Jan 21. PMID: 25688267
The association of autism spectrum disorders with oxidative stress, redox imbalance, and mitochondrial dysfunction has become increasingly recognized. In this study, extracellular flux analysis was used to compare mitochondrial respiration in lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) from individuals with autism and unaffected controls exposed to ethylmercury, an environmental toxin known to deplete glutathione and induce oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction. We also tested whether pretreating the autism LCLs with N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) to increase glutathione concentrations conferred protection from ethylmercury. Examination of 16 autism/control LCL pairs revealed that a subgroup (31%) of autism LCLs exhibited a greater reduction in ATP-linked respiration, maximal respiratory capacity, and reserve capacity when exposed to ethylmercury, compared to control LCLs. These respiratory parameters were significantly elevated at baseline in the ethylmercury-sensitive autism subgroup as compared to control LCLs. NAC pretreatment of the sensitive subgroup reduced (normalized) baseline respiratory parameters and blunted the exaggerated ethylmercury-induced reserve capacity depletion. These findings suggest that the epidemiological link between environmental mercury exposure and an increased risk of developing autism may be mediated through mitochondrial dysfunction and support the notion that a subset of individuals with autism may be vulnerable to environmental influences with detrimental effects on development through mitochondrial dysfunction.