The ability of neutrophils to phagocytose and kill Candida species as well as the splenic phagocytic function were investigated in workers from a mercury-producing plant. In the neutrophil phagocytosis study, two species of Candida were used in since in individuals with myeloperoxidase deficiency neutorphils are unable to kill Candida albicans, while Candida pseudotropicalis can be effectively lysed. Phagocytosis of both antigens and splenic phagocytic function were normal in all the workers studied. However, following ingestion of the organisms there was considerable reduction in the ability of neutrophils from exposed workers to kill both species of Candida, and this was not explained by a mild impairment of phagocytosis. After improvement in the hygiene conditions in the factory, a new evaluation was performed, 6 months later, in the same workers and urinary mercury concentrations were determined monthly in each worker. Despite a significant reduction in urinary mercury concentrations, a greater impairment in the ability of neutrophils to kill C. albicans was observed. The killing of C. pseudotropicalis presented no further impairment when compared to the previous evaluation. These results suggest that impairment of the lytic activity of neutrophils from workers with urinary mercury concentrations within the safe level for exposed population is due, at least in part, to some interference with myeloperoxidase activity. In addition, the mercury-NADPH complex, once formed, could limit the utilization of reduced pyridine nucleotides by NADPH- dependent enzymes such as NADPH oxidase, thereby inhibiting the PMN respiratory burst.
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Acknowledgements -- This work was supported by grants from the Fundac~o de Amparo h Pesquisa do Estado de $5o Paulo (FAPESP) and Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Cientifico e Tecnol6gico (CNPq).