A physiologically based toxicokinetic model for methylmercury in female American kestrels

John W. Nichols, Richard S. Bennett, Ronald Rossmann, John B. French, Keith G. Sappington

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A physiologically based toxicokinetic (PBTK) model was developed to describe the uptake, distribution, and elimination of methylmercury (CH 3Hg) in female American kestrels. The model consists of six tissue compartments corresponding to the brain, liver, kidney, gut, red blood cells, and remaining carcass. Additional compartments describe the elimination of CH3Hg to eggs and growing feathers. Dietary uptake of CH 3Hg was modeled as a diffusion-limited process, and the distribution of CH3Hg among compartments was assumed to be mediated by the flow of blood plasma. To the extent possible, model parameters were developed using information from American kestrels. Additional parameters were based on measured values for closely related species and allometric relationships for birds. The model was calibrated using data from dietary dosing studies with American kestrels. Good agreement between model simulations and measured CH3Hg concentrations in blood and tissues during the loading phase of these studies was obtained by fitting model parameters that control dietary uptake of CH 3Hg and possible hepatic demethylation. Modeled results tended to underestimate the observed effect of egg production on circulating levels of CH3Hg. In general, however, simulations were consistent with observed patterns of CH3Hg uptake and elimination in birds, including the dominant role of feather molt. This model could be used to extrapolate CH 3Hg kinetics from American kestrels to other bird species by appropriate reassignment of parameter values. Alternatively, when combined with a bioenergetics-based description, the model could be used to simulate CH 3Hg kinetics in a long-term environmental exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1854-1867
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • American kestrel
  • Methylmercury
  • Physiologically based model


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