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Isotope Fractionation from In Vivo Methylmercury Detoxification in Waterbirds

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posted on 2021-04-08, 19:17 authored by Brett A. Poulin, Sarah E. Janssen, Tylor J. Rosera, David P. Krabbenhoft, Collin A. Eagles-Smith, Joshua T. Ackerman, A. Robin Stewart, Eunhee Kim, Zofia Baumann, Jeong-Hoon Kim, Alain Manceau
The robust application of stable mercury (Hg) isotopes for mercury source apportionment and risk assessment necessitates the understanding of mass-dependent fractionation (MDF) as a result of internal transformations within organisms. Here, we used high energy-resolution X-ray absorption near edge structure spectroscopy and isotope ratios of total mercury (δ202THg) and methylmercury (δ202MeHg) to elucidate the chemical speciation of Hg and the resultant MDF as a result of internal MeHg demethylation in waterbirds. In three waterbirds (Clark’s grebe, Forster’s tern, and south polar skua), between 17 and 86% of MeHg was demethylated to inorganic mercury (iHg) species primarily in the liver and kidneys as Hg–tetraselenolate [Hg­(Sec)4] and minor Hg–dithiolate [Hg­(SR)2] complexes. Tissular differences between δ202THg and δ202MeHg correlated linearly with %iHg [Hg­(Sec)4 + Hg­(SR)2] and were interpreted to reflect a kinetic isotope effect during in vivo MeHg demethylation. The product–reactant isotopic enrichment factor (εp/r) for the demethylation of MeHg → Hg­(Sec)4 was −2.2 ± 0.1‰. δ202MeHg values were unvarying within each bird, regardless of Hg­(Sec)4 abundance, indicating fast internal cycling or replenishment of MeHg relative to demethylation. Our findings document a universal selenium-dependent demethylation reaction in birds, provide new insights on the internal transformations and cycling of MeHg and Hg­(Sec)4, and allow for mathematical correction of δ202THg values as a result of the MeHg → Hg­(Sec)4 reaction.