Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
Administration of mercuric chloride into susceptible rats and mice induces a systemic autoimmune disease, which is characterized by a T-cell-dependent polyclonal B-cell activation, an increase in serum levels of immunoglobulin (Ig)G1 and IgE, production of antibodies of different specificities and development of renal IgG deposits. A peculiar feature of mercury-induced autoimmunity is that the polyclonal B-cell activation spontaneously disappears in spite of continuous injection of mercury. The exact mechanism(s) for autoregulation of mercury-induced autoimmunity is not well understood. In the present study, we analysed the regulation of mercury-induced immune/autoimmune responses in mice and tested whether spontaneous downregulation of these responses is owing to a general immunosuppression. Mercury-susceptible [SJL (H-2s)] and -resistant [DBA/2 (H-2d)] mice were injected with mercury for 4, 10, 15 and 17 weeks. Immune/autoimmune responses were monitored in these mice. Thereafter, mercury-injected mice for 17 weeks were further immunized with horse red blood cells (HRBC) to study whether the subsequent humoral immune response to a foreign antigen is suppressed. We found that except for IgG1 anti-nucleolar antibody production and renal IgG1 deposition, other characteristics of mercury-induced autoimmunity were downregulated in SJL (H-2s) mice after chronic treatment with mercury. However, these mice did not show any reduction in the number of splenic antibody-secreting cells and/or in serum titres of specific IgM, IgG1 and IgG2a anti-HRBC antibodies in response to HRBC as compared with naïve mice. Similarly, in mercury-resistant DBA/2 (H-2d) mice, chronic treatment with mercury did not either suppress specific antibody responses against HRBC. Our findings show that the autoregulation of mercury-induced immune/autoimmune responses observed after chronic treatment with mercury is not owing to a general immunosuppression.
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