Mercury distribution and speciation in different brain regions of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas).
The toxicokinetics of mercury (Hg) in key species of Arctic ecosystem are poorly understood. We sampled five brain regions (frontal lobe, temporal lobe, cerebellum, brain stem and spinal cord) from beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) harvested in 2006, 2008, and 2010 from the eastern Beaufort Sea, Canada, and measured total Hg (HgT) and total selenium (SeT) by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), mercury analyzer or cold vapor atomic absorption spectrometry, and the chemical forms using a high performance liquid chromatography ICP-MS. At least 14% of the beluga whales had HgT concentrations higher than the levels of observable adverse effect (6.0 mg kg(-1) wet weight (ww)) in primates. The concentrations of HgT differed between brain regions; median concentrations (mgkg(-1) ww) were 2.34 (0.06 to 22.6, 81) (range, n) in temporal lobe, 1.84 (0.12 to 21.9, 77) in frontal lobe, 1.84 (0.05 to 16.9, 83) in cerebellum, 1.25 (0.02 to 11.1, 77) in spinal cord and 1.32 (0.13 to 15.2, 39) in brain stem. Total Hg concentrations in the cerebellum increased with age (p<0.05). Between 35 and 45% of HgT was water-soluble, of which, 32 to 41% was methyl mercury (MeHg) and 59 to 68% was labile inorganic Hg. The concentration of MeHg (range: 0.03 to 1.05 mg kg(-1) ww) was positively associated with HgT concentration, and the percent MeHg (4 to 109%) decreased exponentially with increasing HgT concentration in the spinal cord, cerebellum, frontal lobe and temporal lobe. There was a positive association between SeT and HgT in all brain regions (p<0.05) suggesting that Se may play a role in the detoxification of Hg in the brain. The concentration of HgT in the cerebellum was significantly associated with HgT in other organs. Therefore, HgT concentrations in organs that are frequently sampled in bio-monitoring studies could be used to estimate HgT concentrations in the cerebellum, which is the target organ of MeHg toxicity.