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Isotope Fractionation from in Vivo Methylmercury Detoxification in Waterbirds

  • Author(s): Poulin, BA;
  • Janssen, SE;
  • Rosera, TJ;
  • Krabbenhoft, DP;
  • Eagles-Smith, CA;
  • Ackerman, JT;
  • Stewart, AR;
  • Kim, E;
  • Baumann, Z;
  • Kim, JH;
  • Manceau, A
  • et al.

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.

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