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Toxic effects of mercury persists for generations


Mercury is a global pollutant that is released into the air from a variety of sources, from power plants to volcanoes, and is washed into bodies of water by rainfall. Once in water, microbes change it into methylmercury, which enters the food-chain and accumulates in the bodies of fish. Once it enters an organism, it generates several toxicity mechanisms and oxidative stress has been proposed as the main one. The main way people are exposed to methylmercury is by consuming large amounts of fish.

The new study:
The study, by researchers at Washington State University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is the first to show that health problems associated with exposure to the neurotoxin are sustained for multiple generations.

“Effects previously observed and suspected now have been shown to be passed to future generations, not simply the individual exposed,” said Michael Skinner, coauthor and founding director of the Center for Reproductive Biology in WSU’s School of Biological Sciences. “This dramatically impacts the health hazards of mercury exposure.”

If the same effects occur in people, it means the health hazards from exposure to mercury, which is present in waterways and fish, is dramatically underestimated, said Michael Carvan, a professor of freshwater sciences at the UW-Milwaukee.

Scientists have already found evidence that methylmercury is a neurotoxin for both children and adults. But those studies have come from examining single, direct exposures to high doses.

The researchers looked at a single cell type – sperm – to compare across three generations, and also tracked two observed abnormal behaviors. The first generation was exposed to a level of methylmercury that could be present in humans who eat a large amount of fish.

Two abnormal behaviors observed across generations after at this level of initial exposure were impaired vision and hyperactivity.

“We tested genome-wide, epigenetic effects and found many genes with alterations,” Carvan said. “We also looked at the two behaviors and each were caused by independently inherited epigenetic effects.”

The effects in the originally exposed generation are not as pronounced in the second and third generations, but more individual fish were affected in the offspring, the researchers found.

If the study results translate to people, those who would be most affected are East Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans, populations that eat more fish than most. Among women of childbearing age in those populations, 27 percent have enough of the toxin in their bodies to inflict damage to the nervous system of a fetus.

Carvan said the takeaway message from the study is that women who are of childbearing age should be especially selective in how much and what kind of seafood they eat, especially in Wisconsin, northern Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where fishing in small inland lakes is prevalent. The heavy metal collects at a higher percentage in small lakes.

The extent of exposure also depends on what types of fish are eaten. Store-bought oysters, Pacific salmon and rainbow trout contain much less methylmercury than catfish, swordfish and large, wild-caught fish from small lakes.

Source: Adapted from WSU News

Original study

Michael J. Carvan III, Thomas A. Kalluvila, Rebekah H. Klingler, Jeremy K. Larson, Matthew Pickens, Francisco X. Mora-Zamorano, Victoria P. Connaughton, Ingrid Sadler-Riggleman, Daniel Beck, Michael K. Skinner, Mercury-induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of abnormal neurobehavior is correlated with sperm epimutations in zebrafish. PLoS ONE 12/5 (2017) e0176155. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0176155

Related studies (newest first)

Kristin Bridges, Barney Venables, Aaron Roberts, Effects of dietary methylmercury on the dopaminergic system of adult fathead minnows and their offspring, Environ. Toxicol. Chem., 36/4 (2017) 1077-1084. doi: 10.1002/etc.3630

Xiaojuan Xu, Daniel Weber, Amanda Martin, Daniel Lone, Trans-generational transmission of neurobehavioral impairments produced by developmental methylmercury exposure in zebrafish (Danio rerio), Neurotoxicol. Teratol.,  53 (2016) 19–23. doi: 10.1016/j.ntt.2015.11.003  

F.X. Mora-Zamorano, K.R. Svoboda, M.J. Carvan III, The Nicotine-Evoked Locomotor Response: A Behavioral Paradigm for Toxicity Screening in Zebrafish (Danio rerio) Embryos and Eleutheroembryos Exposed to Methylmercury. PLoS ONE 11/4 (2016)  e0154570. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154570

Francisco X. Mora-Zamorano, Rebekah Klingler, Cheryl A. Murphy, Niladri Basu, Jessica Head, Michael J. CarvanIII, Parental Whole Life Cycle Exposure to Dietary Methylmercury in Zebrafish (Danio rerio) Affects the Behavior of Offspring, Environ. Sci. Technol., 50/9 (2016) 4808–4816. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.6b00223

Qing Liu, Rebekah H. Klingler, Barbara Wimpee, Matthew Dellinger, Tisha King-Heiden, Jessica Grzybowski, Shawn L. Gerstenberger, Daniel N. Weber, Michael J. Carvan, Maternal methylmercury from a wild-caught walleye diet induces developmental abnormalities in zebrafish, Reprod. Toxicol., 65 (2016) 272-282. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2016.08.010

T. Yorifuji, Y. Kado, M.H. Diez, T. Kishikawa, S. Sanada, Neurological and neurocognitive functions from intrauterine methylmercury exposure. Arch Environ Occup Health, 71/3 (2016) 170-177. doi: 10.1080/19338244.2015.1080153

K.M. Bakulski, H. Lee, J.I. Feinberg, E.M. Wells, S. Brown, J.B. Herbstman, F.R. Witter, R.U. Halden, K. Caldwell, M.E. Mortensen, A.E. Jaffe, J. Moye, L.E. Caulfield, Y. Pan, L.R. Goldman, A.P. Feinberg, M.D. Fallin, Prenatal mercury concentration is associated with changes in DNA methylation at TCEANC2 in newborns, Int. J. Epidemiol., 44/4 (2015) 1249-1262. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyv032

S. Llop, F. Ballester, K. Broberg, Effect of Gene-Mercury Interactions on Mercury Toxicokinetics and Neurotoxicity. Curr. Environ. Health Rep., 2/2 (2015) 179–194. doi:     10.1007/s40572-015-0047-y  

D. Peplow, S. Augustine, Neurological abnormalities in a mercury exposed population among indigenous Wayana in Southeast Suriname. Environ. Sci. Process. Impacts, 16/10 (2014) 2415–2422. doi: 10.1039/C4EM00268G

E.B. Bisen-Hersh, M. Farina, F. Barbosa Jr., J.B. Rocha, M. Aschner,  Behavioral effects of developmental methylmercury drinking water exposure in rodents. J Trace Elem. Med. Biol., 28/2 (2014) 117–124. doi: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2013.09.008

J.M. Goodrich, N. Basu, A. Franzblau, D.C. Dolinoy, Mercury biomarkers and DNA methylation among Michigan dental professionals, Environ. Mol. Mutagen., 54/3 (2013) 195-203. doi: 10.1002/em.21763

R. Bose, N. Onishchenko, K. Edoff, A.M. Janson Lang, S. Ceccatelli, Inherited effects of low-dose exposure to methylmercury in neural stem cells, Toxicol. Sci., 130/2 (2012) 383-390. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfs257

T.Yorifuji, S. Kashima, T. Tsuda, M. Harada, What has methylmercury in umbilical cords told us? — Minamata disease. Sci Total Environ. 408/2 (2009) 272–6. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.10.011

 Related EVISA Resources

Link Database: Toxicity of Organo-mercury compounds
Link Database: Mercury exposure through the diet
Link Database: Environmental cycling of methylmercury
Link Database: Environmental cycling of inorganic mercury
Link Database: Environmental pollution of methylmercury
Link Database: Environmental pollution of inorganic mercury
Link Database: Toxicity of mercury

Related EVISA News

February 15, 2017: Toxicity of organomercury compounds
May 5, 2014: Global policy on the use of mercury as a preservative in vaccine called discriminatory
September 12, 2013: Scientists reveal how organic mercury can interfer with vision
October 12, 2012: Prenatal mercury intake linked to ADHD
June 19, 2012: Vaccine ingredient causes brain damage; some nutrients prevent it
August 16, 2010: Methylmercury: What have we learned from Minamata Bay?
July 15, 2009: New Study Finds: Thimerosal Induces Autism-like Neurotoxicity
May 3, 2006: Texas Study Relates Autism to Environmental Mercury
March 24, 2006: Mercury Containing Preservative Alters Immune Function
April 27, 2005: New results about toxicity of thimerosal
February 11, 2005: New findings about Thimerosal Neurotoxicity

last time modified: May 25, 2017

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