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Brain Res Bull. 2001 May 15;55(2):197-203.

Neurotoxicity and molecular effects of methylmercury.

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University of Pavia and "Salvatore Maugeri" Foundation, Pavia, Italy.


The neurotoxicity of high levels of methylmercury (MeHg) and the high susceptibility of the developing brain are well established both in humans and experimental animals. Prenatally poisoned children display a range of effects varying from severe cerebral palsy to subtle developmental delays. Still unknown is the lowest dose that impairs neurodevelopment. The primary source of human exposure is the fish. The data obtained so far from epidemiological studies on fish-eating populations are not consistent. A reference dose of 0.1 microg MeHg/kg per day has been established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency based on a study on Iraqi children exposed to MeHg in utero. However, these exposures occurred at high level for a limited period of time, and consequently were not typical of lower chronic exposure levels associated with fish consumption. Major obstacles for estimation of a threshold dose for MeHg include the delayed appearance of the neurodevelopmental effects following prenatal exposure and limited knowledge of cellular and molecular processes underlying these neurological changes. In this respect, a strategy which aims at identifying sensitive molecular targets of MeHg at environmentally relevant levels may prove particularly useful to risk assessment. Here some examples of MeHg molecular effects occurring at low doses/concentrations are presented.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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