Cerebellar Abnormalities Typical of Methylmercury Poisoning in a Fledged Saltmarsh Sparrow, Ammodramus caudacutus



A fledged, 12–15 day-old saltmarsh sparrow, Ammodramus caudacutus, was collected from an accidental kill on Cinder Island, Long Island, NY, USA. The sparrow was assessed for feather mercury levels and the brain analyzed for cerebellar abnormalities by microscopic examination. In humans, fetal Minamata disease is caused by maternal ingestion of mercury. It is characterized by disrupted and disordered cerebellar neuronal migration in the fetus or infant. Results from this sparrow show cerebellar abnormalities typical of Minamata disease. It is the first known avian or mammalian specimen taken from the wild to show the abnormalities typical of the human fetal syndrome.


Methylmercury Cerebellum Saltmarsh sparrow Neurotoxicity 


  1. Burbacher TM, Rodier PM, Weiss B (1990) Methylmercury developmental neurotoxicity: a comparison of effects in human and animals. Neurotox Teratol 12:191–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Castoldi AF, Onischenko N, Johansson C, Coccini T, Roda E, Vahter M, Ceccatelli S, Manzo L (2008) Neurodevelopmental toxicity of methylmercury: laboratory data and their contribution to human risk assessment. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 51(2):215–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Choi BH, Lapham LW, Amin-Zaki L, Saleem T (1978) Abnormal neuronal migration, deranged cerebral cortical organization, and diffuse white matter astrocytosis of human fetal brain: a major effect of methylmercury poisoning in utero. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol 37(6):719–733CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Condon AM, Cristol DA (2009) Feather growth influences blood mercury level of young songbirds. Environ Toxicol Chem 28(2):395–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cristol DA, Brasso RL, Condon AM, Fovargue RE, Friedman SL, Hallinger KK, Monroe AP, White AE (2008) The movement of aquatic mercury through terrestrial food webs. Science 18(5874):320–335Google Scholar
  6. Edmonds ST, Evers DC, Cristol DA, Mettke-Hofmann C, Powell LL, McGann AJ, Armiger JW, Lane OP, Tessler DF, Newell P, Heyden K, O’Driscoll NJ (2010) Geographic and seasonal variation in mercury exposure of the declining rusty blackbird. Condor 112:789–799CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Evers DC, Savoy L, DeSorbo CR, Yates D, Hanson W, Taylor KM, Siegel L, Cooley JH, Bank M, Major A, Munney K, Vogel HS, Schoch N, Pokras M, Goodale W, Fair J (2008) Adverse effects from environmental mercury on common breeding loons. Ecotoxicology 17:69–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Greenlaw JS, Rising JD (1994) Saltmarsh sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus). In: Poole A (ed) The birds of North America online, vol 112. Ithaca, Cornell Lab of OrnithologyGoogle Scholar
  9. Hanaway J (1967) Formation and differentiation of the external granule layer of the chick cerebellum. J Comp Neurol 131(1):1–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Heinz GH, Hoffman DJ, Klimstra JD, Stebbins KR, Kondrad SL, Erwin CA (2009) Species differences in the sensitivity of avian embryos to methylmercury. Arch Enviorn Contam Toxicol 56(1):129–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kunimoto M, Suzuki T (1997) Migration of granule neurons in cerebellar organotypic cultures is impaired by methylmercury. Neurosci Lett 226(3):183–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lane OP, O’Brien KM, Evers DC, Hodgman TP, Major A, Pau N, Ducey MJ, Taylor R, Perry D (2011) Mercury in breeding saltmarsh sparrows (Ammodramus caudacutus caudacutus). Ecotoxicology. doi:10.1007/s10646-0110740-z Google Scholar
  13. Lane OP, Edmonds S, Buck D, Regan K (2012) Mercury assessment of saltmarsh sparrows on Long Island, New York, 2010–2011. Final report 12-12, NYSERDA 11139, nyserda.ny.gov
  14. Lemire R, Loeser JD, Leech R, Alvord E (1985) Normal and abnormal development of the human nervous system. Harper and Row, HagerstownGoogle Scholar
  15. Llinas R, Hillman DE (1969) Physiological and morphological organization of the cerebellar circuits in various vertebrates. In: Llinas R (ed) Neurobiology of Cerebellar Evolution and Development. American Medical Association, Chicago, pp 43–73Google Scholar
  16. Matsumoto H, Koya G, Takeuchi T (1965) Fetal Minamata disease. A neuropathological study of two cases of intrauterine intoxication by a methyl mercury compound. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol 24(4):563–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rimmer CC, Mcfarland KP, Evers DC, Miller EK, Aubry Y, Busby D, Taylor RJ (2005) Mercury concentrations in Bicknell’s thrush and other insectivorous passerines in montane forests of northeastern North America. Ecotoxicology 14(1–2):233–240Google Scholar
  18. Sakamoto M, Kakita A, Wakabayashi K, Takahashi H, Nakano A, Akagi H (2002) Evaluation of changes in methylmercury accumulation in the developing rat brain and its effects: a study with consecutive and moderate dose exposure throughout gestation and lactation periods. Brain Res 949:51–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Winder VL (2012) Characterization of mercury and its risk in Nelson’s, saltmarsh, and seaside sparrows. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044446

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Pathology and AnatomyEastern Virginia Medical SchoolNorfolkUSA
  2. 2.Biodiversity Research InstituteGorhamUSA

Personalised recommendations