Mercury speciation in prenatal exposure in Slovenian and Croatian population – PHIME study

Ajda Trdin, J. Snoj Tratnik, D. Mazej, V. Fajon, Mladen Krsnik, Joško Osredkar, Igor Prpić, Zdravko Špirić, Oleg Petrović, J. Marc, D. Neubauer, Jana Kodrič, Alfred B. Kobal, F. Barbone, Ingrid Falnoga, Milena Horvat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years, several studies have addressed the issue of prenatal exposure to methylmercury (MeHg); however, few have actually analysed MeHg blood concentrations. Our study population included mothers and their new-borns from Slovenia (central region; N = 584) and Croatia (coastal region; N = 234). We have measurements of total Hg (THg) and MeHg in maternal hair, maternal peripheral blood, and cord blood. Cord blood Hg concentrations were low to moderate (median THg = 1.84 ng/g and MeHg = 1.69 ng/g). The proportion of THg as MeHg (%MeHg) in maternal and cord blood varied between 4% and 100% (coefficient of variation, CV = 32%) and between 8% and 100% (CV = 20%), respectively. Our data shows that variability of %MeHg was higher at lower blood THg levels. Concentrations of MeHg in maternal blood and cord blood were highly correlated (Rs = 0.943), in the case of inorganic Hg correlation was significant but weaker (Rs = 0.198). MeHg levels in maternal blood and cord blood were positively associated with seafood intake, maternal age, and negatively associated with pre-pregnancy BMI. Additionally, MeHg in maternal blood was positively associated with plasma selenium levels, and cord blood MeHg was negatively associated with parity. The results of multiple linear regression models showed that speciation analysis provides more defined estimation of prenatal exposure in association modelling. Associations between Hg exposure and cognitive performance of children (assessed using Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler development) adjusted for maternal or child Apolipoprotein E genotypes showed higher model R2 and lower p-values when adjusted for MeHg compared to THg. This study demonstrates that Hg speciation improves the association between exposure and possible negative health effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108627
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Apolipoprotein E (ApoE)
  • Methylmercury
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Prenatal exposure
  • Speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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