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Neurotoxicology. 1998 Apr;19(2):313-28.

A review of methylmercury and child development.

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Department of Neurology, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, New York 14642, USA.


Methylmercury (MeHg) is a neurotoxin present in both fresh and saltwater fish throughout the world. Increased levels of MeHg can be found in individuals who regularly consume fish. The developing brain is very sensitive to the deleterious effects of MeHg, and prenatal exposure can occur when the mother has a diet high in fish. If the level of MeHg exposure achieved by eating fish adversely affects the fetus or child's neurological development it could have far reaching public health implications. Studies of human prenatal MeHg poisoning in Iraq suggest that MeHg levels achieved by eating fish may affect neurological development even when the fish MeHg levels are not elevated by obvious pollution. Studies in fish eating populations have identified adverse neurological and developmental outcomes, but these findings have not been consistent. Additional studies are presently underway to determine whether consistent adverse outcomes can be identified using more sensitive testing methods and examining children older than in previous studies. This review examines studies of human prenatal and postnatal MeHg exposure. Studies of poisoning episodes where children are symptomatic and studies of fish eating populations where no symptoms are apparent will be addressed. Individuals around the world depend on fish as a protein source and increasing evidence suggests that regular fish consumption has cardiovascular benefits. It is not presently clear whether MeHg exposures from a high fish diet adversely affect children's neurological development, but it is an important question to answer.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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