N-acetylcysteine as an antidote in methylmercury poisoning

Nazzareno Ballatori, Michael W. Lieberman, Wei Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Methylmercury is a ubiquitous environmental pollutant and a potent neurotoxin. Treatment of methylmercury poisoning relies almost exclusively on the use of chelating agents to accelerate excretion of the metal. The present study demonstrates that oral administration of N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a widely available and largely nontoxic amino acid derivative, produces a profound acceleration of urinary methylmercury excretion in mice. Mice that received NAC in the drinking water (10 mg/ml) starting at 48 hr after methylmercury administration excreted from 47 to 54% of the 203Hg in urine over the subsequent 48 hr, as compared to 4-10% excretion in control animals. When NAC-containing water was given from the time of methylmercury administration, it was even more effective at enhancing urinary methylmercury excretion and at lowering tissue mercury levels. In contrast, excretion of inorganic mercury was not affected by oral NAC administration. The ability of NAC to enhance methylmercury excretion when given orally, its relatively low toxicity, and its wide availability in the clinical setting indicate that it may be an ideal therapeutic agent for use in methylmercury poisoning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-271
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1998


  • Antidote
  • Brain
  • Glutathione
  • Inorganic mercury
  • Methylmercury
  • N-acetylcysteine
  • Poisoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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