, Volume 11, Issue 3-4, pp 241-260

Neurobehavioural and molecular changes induced by methylmercury exposure during development

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There is an increasing body of evidence on the possible environmental influence on neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. Both experimental and epidemiological studies have demonstrated the distinctive susceptibility of the developing brain to environmental factors such as lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls at levels of exposure that have no detectable effects in adults. Methylmercury (MeHg) has long been known to affect neurodevelopment in both humans and experimental animals. Neurobehavioural effects reported include altered motoric function and memory and learning disabilities. In addition, there is evidence from recent experimental neurodevelopmental studies that MeHg can induce depression-like behaviour. Several mechanisms have been suggested fromin vivo- andin vitro-studies, such as effects on neurotransmitter systems, induction of oxidative stress and disruption of microtubules and intracellular calcium homeostasis. Recentin vitro data show that very low levels of MeHg can inhibit neuronal differentiation of neural stem cells. This review summarises what is currently known about the neurodevelopmental effects of MeHg and consider the strength of different experimental approaches to study the effects of environmentally relevant exposurein vivo andin vitro.