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Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Feb;114(2):307-12.

Prenatal methylmercury exposure and developmental outcomes: review of the evidence and discussion of future directions.

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  • 1Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom.


I conducted a review of the published literature to assess the strength of the evidence for an association between prenatal exposure to methylmercury (MeHg) and subsequent child development. I identified 12 studies on this subject published since 1980. Of these, 3 were longitudinal studies--2 conducted in the Seychelle Islands, and 1 in the Faroe Islands. Nine were cross-sectional studies conducted in different countries where seafood, a source of MeHg, constituted a major part of the diet. The ages of the children studied ranged from 2 weeks to 12 years. The results of the longitudinal studies were contradictory. Researchers in the Faroe Islands identified an association between MeHg exposure and developmental effects, whereas those in the Seychelle Islands identified no such association. This inconsistency was mirrored in the results of the cross-sectional studies where there were some positive and some negative findings. It was concluded that it was not possible from currently available data to determine whether there is an association between prenatal MeHg exposure and adverse developmental effects in children. In advance of future research, consideration should be given to resolving the uncertainties surrounding exposure assessment and outcome measurement, as both elements varied between studies. It was suggested that questions of exposure assessment would benefit from the application of an expert review process. Outcome assessment would benefit from the development of theoretically based measures of specific aspects of cognitive functioning to replace the relatively crude measures of attainment and IQ currently employed in most studies. This would assist in the development of classic longitudinal studies by allowing repeated assessment over the full age range and providing data that are more readily interpretable and comparable between studies.

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