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Environ Toxicol Chem. 2014 Jun;33(6):1248-58. doi: 10.1002/etc.2375. Epub 2014 Apr 25.

Ecogenetics of mercury: from genetic polymorphisms and epigenetics to risk assessment and decision-making.

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Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


The risk assessment of mercury (Hg), in both humans and wildlife, is made challenging by great variability in exposure and health effects. Although disease risk arises following complex interactions between genetic ("nature") and environmental ("nurture") factors, most Hg studies thus far have focused solely on environmental factors. In recent years, ecogenetic-based studies have emerged and have started to document genetic and epigenetic factors that may indeed influence the toxicokinetics or toxicodynamics of Hg. The present study reviews these studies and discusses their utility in terms of Hg risk assessment, management, and policy and offers perspectives on fruitful areas for future research. In brief, epidemiological studies on populations exposed to inorganic Hg (e.g., dentists and miners) or methylmercury (e.g., fish consumers) are showing that polymorphisms in a number of environmentally responsive genes can explain variations in Hg biomarker values and health outcomes. Studies on mammals (wildlife, humans, rodents) are showing Hg exposures to be related to epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation. Such findings are beginning to increase understanding of the mechanisms of action of Hg, and in doing so they may help identify candidate biomarkers and pinpoint susceptible groups or life stages. Furthermore, they may help refine uncertainty factors and thus lead to more accurate risk assessments and improved decision-making.


Epigenetics; Genetic polymorphisms; Mercury; Review; Risk assessment

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