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Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1997 Nov-Dec;19(6):417-28.

Cognitive deficit in 7-year-old children with prenatal exposure to methylmercury.

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  • 1Institute of Community Health, Odense University, Denmark.


A cohort of 1022 consecutive singleton births was generated during 1986-1987 in the Faroe Islands. Increased methylmercury exposure from maternal consumption of pilot whale meat was indicated by mercury concentrations in cord blood and maternal hair. At approximately 7 years of age, 917 of the children underwent detailed neurobehavioral examination. Neuropsychological tests included Finger Tapping; Hand-Eye Coordination; reaction time on a Continuous Performance Test; Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised Digit Spans, Similarities, and Block Designs; Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test; Boston Naming Test; and California Verbal Learning Test (Children). Clinical examination and neurophysiological testing did not reveal any clear-cut mercury-related abnormalities. However, mercury-related neuropsychological dysfunctions were most pronounced in the domains of language, attention, and memory, and to a lesser extent in visuospatial and motor functions. These associations remained after adjustment for covariates and after exclusion of children with maternal hair mercury concentrations above 10 microgram(s) (50 nmol/g). The effects on brain function associated with prenatal methylmercury exposure therefore appear widespread, and early dysfunction is detectable at exposure levels currently considered safe.

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