The epithelial cells that line the renal proximal tubule have been shown to be the primary cellular targets where mercuric ions gain entry, accumulate, and induce pathologic effects in vivo. Recent data have implicated at least one of the organic anion transport systems in the basolateral uptake of inorganic mercury (Hg). With the use of a line of type II MDCK cells transfected stably with the human organic anion transporter 1 (hOAT1), the hypothesis that hOAT1 can transport mercuric conjugates of homocysteine (Hcy) was tested.
Indeed, MDCK II cells expressing a functional form of hOAT1 gained the ability to transport the mercuric conjugate 2-amino-4-(3-amino-3-carboxy-propylsulfanylmercuricsulfanyl) butyric acid (Hcy-S-Hg-S-Hcy). In addition, p-aminohippurate and the dicarboxylates adipate and glutarate (but not succinate or malonate) inhibited individually the uptake of Hcy-S-Hg-S-Hcy in a concentration-dependent manner. Furthermore, a direct relationship between the uptake of Hcy-S-Hg-S-Hcy and the induction of cellular injury and death was demonstrated in the hOAT1-expressing MDCK II cells only. These data represent the first line of direct evidence implicating one of the organic anion transporters in the uptake of a mercuric conjugate of Hcy in a mammalian cell. Thus, mercuric conjugates of Hcy are potential transportable substrates of OAT1. More important, the findings from the present study implicate the activity of OAT1 in the uptake and toxicity of Hg (when in the form of Hcy-S-Hg-S-Hcy in the extracellular compartment) in proximal tubular epithelial cells in vivo.