Modulatory Effects of Mercury (II) Chloride (HgCl2) on Chicken Macrophage and B-Lymphocyte Cell Lines with Viral-Like Challenges In Vitro

Biyao Han*, Diego García-Mendoza, Hans van den Berg, Nico W. van den Brink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Mercury (Hg) is a toxic trace metal ubiquitously distributed in the environment. Inorganic mercury (as HgCl2) can cause immunotoxicity in birds, but the mechanisms of action are still not fully resolved, especially with respect to responses to viral infections. To investigate the potential immunomodulatory effects of Hg2+ on specific cell types of the avian immune system, chicken macrophage (HD-11) and B-lymphocyte (DT40) cell lines were applied as in vitro models for the innate and adaptive immune systems, respectively. The cells were stimulated with synthetic double-stranded RNA, which can be recognized by toll-like receptor-3 to mimic a viral infection. The Hg2+ showed concentration-dependent cytotoxicity in both cell lines, with similar median effect concentrations at 30 µM. The cytotoxicity of Hg2+ was closely related to glutathione (GSH) depletion and reactive oxygen species induction, whereas the de novo synthesis of GSH acted as a primary protective strategy. Nitric oxide produced by activated macrophages was strongly inhibited by Hg2+, and was also influenced by cellular GSH levels. Cell proliferation, gene expression of microRNA-155, and cellular IgM levels in B cells were decreased at noncytotoxic Hg2+ concentrations. The secretion of antiviral interferon-α was induced by Hg2+ in both cell lines. Overall, our results suggest that Hg2+ exposure can cause immunomodulatory effects in birds by disrupting immune cell proliferation and cytokine production, and might result in disorders of the avian immune system. Environ Toxicol Chem 2021;40:2813–2824.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2813-2824
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Avian
  • B-lymphocytes
  • Immunotoxicity
  • Macrophages
  • Mercury (II) chloride
  • Mercury ion
  • Viral-like challenges


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