Neurotoxicity and molecular effects of methylmercury

Anna F. Castoldi, Teresa Coccini, Sandra Ceccatelli, Luigi Manzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The neurotoxicity of high levels of methylmercury (MeHg) and the high susceptibility of the developing brain are well established both in humans and experimental animals. Prenatally poisoned children display a range of effects varying from severe cerebral palsy to subtle developmental delays. Still unknown is the lowest dose that impairs neurodevelopment. The primary source of human exposure is the fish. The data obtained so far from epidemiological studies on fish-eating populations are not consistent. A reference dose of 0.1 μg MeHg/kg per day has been established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency based on a study on Iraqi children exposed to MeHg in utero. However, these exposures occurred at high level for a limited period of time, and consequently were not typical of lower chronic exposure levels associated with fish consumption. Major obstacles for estimation of a threshold dose for MeHg include the delayed appearance of the neurodevelopmental effects following prenatal exposure and limited knowledge of cellular and molecular processes underlying these neurological changes. In this respect, a strategy which aims at identifying sensitive molecular targets of MeHg at environmentally relevant levels may prove particularly useful to risk assessment. Here some examples of MeHg molecular effects occurring at low doses/concentrations are presented.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-203
Number of pages7
JournalBrain Research Bulletin
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 15 2001


  • Apoptosis
  • Calcium
  • Excitotoxicity
  • Microtubules
  • Neurotransmission
  • Oxidative stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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