Methylmercury (MeHg) exposure and its harmful effects on the developing brain continue to be a global environmental health concern. Decline in mitochondrial function is central to the toxic effects of MeHg and pathogenesis of mitochondria-related diseases including Parkinson’s disease (PD). LRRK2 (Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2) mutation is one of the most common genetic risk factors for PD. In this study, we utilize an acute toxicity model of MeHg exposure in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) to compare lifespan, developmental progression, mitochondrial membrane potential and reactive oxygen species (ROS) between the wild-type N2 strain, wild-type LRRK2 transgenic strain (WLZ1), and mutant LRRK2(G2019S) transgenic strain (WLZ3). Additionally, the expression levels of skn-1 and gst-4 were investigated. Our results show that acute MeHg exposure (5 and 10 µM) caused a significant developmental delay in the N2 and WLZ3 worms. Notably, the worms expressing wild-type LRRK2 were resistant to 5 µM MeHg- induced developmental retardation. ROS levels in response to MeHg exposure were increased in the N2 worms, but not in the WLZ1 or WLZ3 worms. The mitochondrial membrane potential was decreased in the N2 worms but increased in the WLZ1 and WLZ3 worms following MeHg exposure. Furthermore, MeHg exposure increased the expression of skn-1 in N2, but not in WLZ1 worms. Although skn-1 expression was increased in the WLZ3 worms following MeHg exposure, gst-4 expression was not induced. Both skn-1 and gst-4 had higher basal expression levels in LRRK2s transgenic than wild-type N2 worms. Knocking down of skn-1 with feeding RNAi had a significant developmental effect in WLZ1 worms; however, the effect was not found in WLZ3 worms. These results suggest that mitochondrial dysfunction and a defect in the SKN-1 signaling in the LRRK2 G2019S worms contribute to the severe developmental delay, establishing a modulatory role of LRRK2 mutation in MeHg-induced acute toxicity.
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