Mercury (Hg) is likely bound to large biomolecules (e.g. proteins) in living organisms, and in order to assess Hg metabolic pathways and possible toxicological effects, it is essential to study these Hg containing biomolecules. However, the exact nature of most metal binding biomolecules is unknown. Such studies are still in their infancy and information on this topic is scarce because the analysis is challenging, mainly due to their lability upon digestion or extraction from the tissue. New analytical methods that allow complex Hg-biomolecules to be analysed intact are needed and only few very recent studies deal with this approach. Therefore, as an initial step towards the characterization of Hg containing biomolecules, an analytical procedure has been optimized using size-exclusion chromatography (SEC) with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) detection. We applied this technique to elucidate the distribution and elution profile of Hg and Se, and some physiological important elements such as Fe, Ni, Zn and Cu, to assess metal binding profiles in liver and kidney samples of red deer (Cervus elaphus) and wild boar (Sus scrofa) who roam freely within the largest Hg mining district on Earth, Almadén in Spain. Elemental fractionation profiles of the extracts from different tissues were obtained using two different SEC columns (BioSep-SEC-S2000 GL 300–1 kDa and Superdex 75 10/300 GL 70–3 kDa). Similar profiles of Hg were observed in red deer and wild boar; however, significant differences were evident for liver and kidney. Moreover, the profiles of Se showed a single peak at high-medium molecular weight in all investigated tissues, while co-elution of Hg with Fe, Ni, Zn and Cu was observed.
- Terrestrial animals