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Environ Health. 2012 Oct 31;11:81. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-11-81.

Chronologically matched toenail-Hg to hair-Hg ratio: temporal analysis within the Japanese community (U.S.).

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National Exposure Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Las Vegas, NV, USA.



Toenail-Hg levels are being used as a marker of methylmercury (MeHg) exposure in efforts to associate exposure with effects such as cardiovascular disease. There is a need to correlate this marker with more established biomarkers that presently underlie existing dose-response relationships in order to compare these relationships across studies.


As part of the Arsenic Mercury Intake Biometric Study, toenail clippings were collected at three time points over a period of one year amongst females from within the population of Japanese living near Puget Sound in Washington State (US). Variability in temporal intra-individual toenail-Hg levels was examined and chronologically matched hair and toenail samples were compared to more accurately define the toxicokinetic variability of Hg levels observed between the two compartments.


Mean toenail-Hg values (n=43) for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd visits were 0.60, 0.60 and 0.56 ng/mg. Correlations were as follows: r=0.92 between 1st and 2nd clinic visits, r=0.75 between 1st and 3rd visits and r=0.87 between 2nd and 3rd visits. With few exceptions, toenail-Hg values from any visit were within 50-150% of the individual's mean toenail-Hg level. Nearly all participants had less than a two-fold change in toenail-Hg levels across the study period. A regression model of the relationship between toenail-Hg and hair-Hg (n = 41) levels representing the same time period of exposure, gave a slope (Hg ng/mg) of 2.79 for hair relative to toenail (r=0.954).


A chronologically matched hair-Hg to toenail-Hg ratio has been identified within a population that consumes fish regularly and in quantity. Intra-individual variation in toenail-Hg levels was less than two-fold and may represent dietary-based fluctuations in body burden for individuals consuming various fish species with different contaminant levels. The chronologically matched ratio will be useful for relating MeHg exposure and dose-response derived from toenail-Hg measurements to those derived from hair-Hg measurements in other studies, and may be useful in future investigations as an indicator of stable MeHg body burden within a population.

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