Exposure, Sources, and Intoxication

  • Shabnum Nabi


The use of mercury in manufacturing and medical purposes has been recorded since classical times in China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Concomitantly, poisoning by this metal has also been reported since 2,000 years ago, such as in Pliny the Elder’s (23–79 AD) Naturae Historiarum Libri, which refers to cinnabar (HgS) poisoning among miners at Almaden, Spain (Rackham 1952). Mercury as a poison has been documented for many centuries.


Inorganic Mercury Mercury Exposure Dental Amalgam MeHg Exposure Hair Mercury 


  1. Adams CR, Zeigler DK, Lin JT (1983) Mercury intoxication simulating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. J Am Med Assoc 250:642–643Google Scholar
  2. Agarwal R, Kumar R, Behari JR (2007) Mercury and lead content in fish species from the river Gomti, Lucknow, India, as biomarkers of contamination. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 78:118–122PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Alexander J, Aaseth J (1982) Organ distribution and cellular uptake of methylmercury in the rat as influenced by the intra and extracellular glutathione concentration. Biochem Pharmacol 31:685–690PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Andren AW, Harriss RC (1973) Methylmercury in estuarine sediments. Nature 245:256–257Google Scholar
  5. Aschner M, Aschner JL (1990) Mercury neurotoxicity: mechanisms of blood-brain barrier transport. Neurosci Biobehav Res 14:169–176Google Scholar
  6. Aschner M, Cherian MG, Klaassen CD, Palmiter RD, Erickson JC, Bush AI (1997) Metallothioneins in brain: the role in physiology and pathology. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 142:229–242PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Atchison WD (2005) Is chemical neurotransmission altered specifically during methylmercury-induced cerebellar dysfunction? Trends Pharmacol Sci 26:549–557PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. ATSDR (1999) Toxicological profile for mercury. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Service, AtlantaGoogle Scholar
  9. ATSDR (2001) 2001 CERCLA priority list of hazardous substances. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Service, AtlantaGoogle Scholar
  10. Bakir F, Damluji SF, Amin-Zaki L, Murtadha M, Khalidi A, Al-Rawi NY, Tikriti S, Dhahir HI, Clarkson TW, Smith JC, Doherty RA (1973) Methyl mercury poisoning in Iraq. Science 181:230–241PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Biesinger KE (1974) The chronic toxicity of mercury to Daphnia magna. National water quality laboratory report. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DuluthGoogle Scholar
  12. Burrows WD, Taimi KI, Krenkel PA (1974) The uptake and loss of methylmercury by freshwater fish. In: Congreso Internacional Del Mercurio, BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  13. Castoldi AF, Coccini T, Ceccatelli S, Manzo L (2001) Neurotoxicity and molecular effects of methylmercury. Brain Res Bull 55:197–203PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Cernichiari E, Brewer R, Myers GJ, Marsh DO, Lapham LW, Cox C, Shamlaye CF, Berlin M, Davidson PW, Clarkson TW (1995) Monitoring methylmercury during pregnancy; maternal hair predicts fetal brain exposure. Neurotoxicology 16:705–710PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Chang LW (1980) Mercury. In: Spencer PS, Schaumburg HH (eds) Experimental and clinical neurotoxicology. The Williams and Wilkins Co., New York, pp 508–526Google Scholar
  16. Clarkson RW (2002) The three modern faces of mercury. Environ Health Perspect 110:11–23PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Cordier S, Garel M, Mandereau L, Morcel H, Doineau P, Gosme-Seguret S, Josse D, White R, Amiel-Tison C (2002) Neurodevelopmental investigations among methylmercury-exposed children in French Guiana. Environ Res 89:1–11PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Davis LE, Kornfield M, Mooney HS, Fiedler KJ, Haaland KY, Orrison WW, Cernichiari E, Clarkson TW (1994) Methylmercury poisoning: long-term clinical, radiological, toxicological and pathological studies of an affected family. Ann Neurol 35:680–688PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. De Freitas ASW, Qadri SU, Case BE (1974) Origins and fate of mercury compounds in fish. In: Proceedings of the international conference on transport of persistent chemicals in aquatic ecosystems, Ottawa. p III-31–III-36Google Scholar
  20. De Laguna A (1955) Pedacio Dioscorides Anazarbeo, Acerca de la Materia Medicinal y de los venenos mortiferos. Libro V, Cap. LXIX: Del Azogue, Juan Latio, Anvers, Belgium. p 540–542Google Scholar
  21. Denny MF, Atchison WD (1994) Elevations in the free intrasynaptosomal concentration of endogenous zinc by methylmercury. J Neurochem 14:290Google Scholar
  22. Denny MF, Hare MF, Atchison WD (1993) Methylmercury alters intrasynaptosomal concentrations of endogenous polyvalent cations. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 122:222–232PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Do Nascimento JLM, Oliveira KRM, Crespo-Lopez ME, Macchi BM, Maues LAL, Pinheiro MCN, Silveira LCL, Herculano AM (2008) Methylmercury neurotoxicity and antioxidant defenses. Indian J Med Res 128:373–382PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Dodes JE (2001) The amalgam controversy: an evidence-based analysis. JADA 132:348–356PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Environmental Working Group (EWG) (2001) What women should know about mercury contamination of fish? Environmental Working Group, Washington, DC, pp 1–4Google Scholar
  26. Ernst E, Coon CT (2001) Heavy metals in traditional Chinese medicines: a systemic review. Clin Pharmacol Ther 70:497–504PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Eto K (2000) Minamata disease. Neuropathology 20:S14–S19PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Fagerstrom T, Jernelov A (1971) Formation of methylmercury from pure mercuric sulfide in aerobic sediment. Water Res 5:121–122Google Scholar
  29. Fagerstrom T, Jernelov A (1974) Biological methylation of mercury, food chain accumulations, ecological effects and routes of exposure to man. CRC Crit Rev Environ Control 4:296Google Scholar
  30. Ferrara R, Mazzolai B, Lanzillotta E, Nucaro E, Pirrone N (2000) Temporal trends in gaseous mercury evasion from the Mediterranean seawaters. Sci Total Environ 259:183–190PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Fitzgerald WF, Lyons WB (1973) Organic mercury compounds in coastal waters. Nature 242:452–453PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Fox JH, Patel-Mandlik K, Cohen MM (1975) Comparative effects of organic and inorganic mercury on brain slice respiration and metabolism. J Neurochem 24:757–762PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Gillespie DC (1972) Mobilization of mercury from sediments into guppies (Poecilia reticulata). J Fish Res Bd Can 29:1035–1041Google Scholar
  34. Goldwater LJ (1936) From Hippocrates to Ramazzini: early history of industrial medicine. Ann Med Hist 8:27–35Google Scholar
  35. Gonzalez-Duarte P (2003) Metallothioneins. In: McCleverty J, Meyer TJ (eds) Comprehensive coordination chemistry II, 8th edn. Elsevier-Pergamon, Amsterdam, pp 213–228Google Scholar
  36. Halsey NA (1999) Limiting infant exposure to thimerosal in vaccines and other sources of mercury. JAMA 282:1763–1766PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Hansen JC (1990) Human exposure to metals through consumption of marine foods: a case study of exceptionally high intake among Greenlanders. In: Furness RW, Rainbow PS (eds) Heavy metals in the marine environment. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 227–243Google Scholar
  38. Harada M, Nakanishi J, Yasoda E, Pinheiro MC, Oikawa R, de Assis Guimaraes, Harriss RC, White D, MacFarlane R (1970) Mercury compounds reduce photosynthesis in plankton. Science 170:736Google Scholar
  39. Harada M, Nakanishi J, Yasoda E, Pinheiro MC, Oikawa T, de Assis Guimaraes G, da Silva Cardoso B, Kizaki T, Ohno H (2001) Mercury pollution in the Tapajos River basin, Amazon: mercury level of head hair and health effects. Environ Int 27:285–290PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Hartung R (1973) A survey of heavy metals in the lower Mississippi River. University of Michigan, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  41. Hidalgo J, Aschner M, Zatta P, Vasak M (2001) Roles of the metallothionein family of proteins in the central nervous system. Brain Res Bull 55:133–145PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Huckabee JW, Goldstein RA (1973) Dynamic redistribution of methylmercury in a pond ecosystem. In: Proceedings of the first annual NSF trace contaminants conference. National Science FoundationGoogle Scholar
  43. Hunter D, Russell DS (1954) Focal cerebral and cerebellar atrophy in a human subject due to organic mercury compounds. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 17:235–241PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Hunter D, Bomfond RR, Russell DS (1940) Poisoning by methylmercury compounds. Q J Med 35:193–213Google Scholar
  45. Imura N, Pan S, Ukita T (1972) Methylation of inorganic mercury with liver homogenate of tuna fish. Chemosphere 5:197Google Scholar
  46. International Medical Veritas Association (IMVA) (2006) Diabetes and mercury poisoning. Medical newsGoogle Scholar
  47. Jacobs LW, Keeney DR (1974) Methylmercury formation in mercury treated river sediments during in situ equilibration. J Environ Qual 3:121–126Google Scholar
  48. Jensen S, Jernelov A (1969) Biological methylation of mercury in aquatic organisms. Nature 223:753–754PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Jernelov A (1969) Are there any difference between “biologically” and “chemically” synthesized methylmercury? Vatten 3:304Google Scholar
  50. Jernelov A (1970) Release of methylmercury from sediments with layers containing inorganic mercury at different depths. Limnol Oceanogr 15:958–960Google Scholar
  51. Jernelov A, Lann H (1971) Mercury accumulation in food chains. Oikos 22:403Google Scholar
  52. Juarez BI, Martinez ML, Montante M, Dufour L, García E, Jimenez-Capdeville ME (2002) Methylmercury increases glutamate extracellular levels in frontal cortex of awake rats. Neurotoxicol Teratol 24:767–771PubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Komulainen H, Tuomisto J (1981) Interference of methylmercury with monoamine uptake and release in rat brain synaptosomes. Acta Pharmacol Toxicol 48:214–222Google Scholar
  54. Lakowicz JR, Anderson CJ (1980) Permeability of lipid bilayers to methylmercuric chloride: quantification by fluorescence quenching of a carbazole-labeled phospholipids. Chem Biol Interact 30:309–323PubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Lepham LW, Cermichiari E, Cox C, Meyers GJ, Baggs RB, Brewer R, Shamlaye CF, Davidson PW, Clarkson TW (1995) An analysis of autopsy of brain tissue from infants prematurely exposed to methylmercury. Neurotoxicology 16:689–704Google Scholar
  56. Levesque PC, Atchison WD (1991) Disruption of brain mitochondrial calcium sequestration by methylmercury. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 256:236–242PubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Limke TL, Otero-Montanez JK, Atchison WD (2003) Evidence for interactions between intracellular calcium stores during methylmercury induced intracellular calcium dysregulation in rat cerebellar granule neurons. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 304:949–958PubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Malm O (1998) Gold mining as a source of mercury exposure in the Brazilian Amazon. Environ Res 77:73–78PubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Marsh DO, Turner MD, Crispin Smith J, Wun Choi J, Clarkson TW (1974) Methylmercury (MeHg) in human population eating large quantities of marine fish. II. American Samoa: cannery workers and fishermen. In: Proceedings of the first international mercury conference, Barcelona, 2. Fabrica de Moneda y Timbre, Madrid, pp 235–239Google Scholar
  60. Marty MS, Atchison WD (1998) Elevations of intracellular Ca2+ as a probable contributor to decreased viability in cerebellar granule cells following acute exposure to methylmercury. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 150:98–105PubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Matida Y, Kumada H (1969) Distribution of mercury in water, bottom mud and aquatic organisms of Minamata Bay, the River Agano and other water bodies in Japan. Bull Freshw Fish Res Lab 19:73Google Scholar
  62. Matida Y, Kumada H, Kimura S, Saiga Y, Nose T, Yokote M, Kawatsu H (1971) Toxicity of mercury compounds to aquatic organisms and accumulation of the compounds by the organisms. Bull Freshw Fish Res Lab 21:197–227Google Scholar
  63. Matsumura F, Gotoh Y, Boush GM (1972) Factors influencing the translocation and transformation of mercury in river sediment. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 8:267–272PubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Minema DJ, Cooper GP, Greeland RD (1989) Effects of methylmercury on neurotransmitters release from rat brain synaptosomes. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 99:510–521Google Scholar
  65. Miura K, Inokawa M, Imura N (1984) Effects of methylmercury and some metal ions on microtubule networks in mouse glioma cells and in vitro tubulin polymerization. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 73:218–231PubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Mori N, Yasutake A, Hirayama K (2007) Comparative study of activities in reactive oxygen species production/defense system in mitochondria of rat brain and liver, and their susceptibility to methylmercury toxicity. Arch Toxicol 81:769–776PubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Morkzan EM, Kerper LE, Ballatori N, Clarkson TW (1995) Methylmercury-thiol uptake into cultured brain capillary endothelial cells on amino acid system L. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 272:1277–1284Google Scholar
  68. Naganuma A, Miura K, Tanaka-Kagawa T, Kitahara J, Seko Y, Toyoda H, Imura N (1998) Overexpression of manganese-superoxide dismutase prevents methylmercury toxicity in HeLa cells. Life Sci 62:L157–L161Google Scholar
  69. National Research Council (2000) Toxicological effects of methylmercury. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, Committee on the Toxicological Effects of MethylmercuryGoogle Scholar
  70. Norseth T, Clarkson TW (1970) Studies on the biotransformation of 203 Hg-labelled methylmercury chloride in rats. Arch Environ Health 21:717–727PubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Orrenius S, Nicotera P (1994) The calcium ion and cell death. J Neural Transm 43:1–11Google Scholar
  72. Ozuah PO (2000) Mercury poisoning. Curr Probl Pediatr 30:91–99PubMedGoogle Scholar
  73. Park ST, Lim KT, Chung YT, Kim SU (1996) Methylmercury induced neurotoxicity in cerebral neuron culture is blocked by antioxidants and NMDA receptor antagonists. Neurotoxicology 17:37–45PubMedGoogle Scholar
  74. Prasad KN, Nobles E, Ramanujam M (1979) Differential sensitivity of glioma cells and neuroblastoma cells to methylmercury toxicity in cultures. Environ Res 19:189–201PubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Rackham H (1952) Pliny: natural history (English trans.), Loeb Classical ser. W. Heinemann, LondonGoogle Scholar
  76. Ramel C (1969) Genetic effects of organic mercury compounds: I. cytological investigations on allium roots. Hereditas 61:208PubMedGoogle Scholar
  77. Reimers RS, Krenkel PA (1974) Sediment sorption phenomena. CRC Crit Revs Environ Control 4:265Google Scholar
  78. Research Committee on Minamata Disease (RCMD) (1974) Pathological, clinical and epidemiological research about Minamata disease; 10 years after (trans: Ishizaki R). Interuniversity Consortium for Environmental Studies, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  79. Rising L, Vitarella D, Kimelberg HK, Aschner M (1995) Metallothionein induction in neonatal rat primary astrocyte cultures protects against methylmercury cytotoxicity. J Neurochem 65:1562–1568PubMedGoogle Scholar
  80. Rizvi SJ, Zahir F, Jairajpuri DS (2005) Mercury: the lurking danger. Anil Aggrawal’s Internet J Forensic Med Toxicol 6Google Scholar
  81. Sager PR, Doherty RA, Olmsted JB (1983) Interaction of methylmercury with microtubules in cultured cells and in vitro. Exp Cell Res 146:127–137PubMedGoogle Scholar
  82. Salonen JT, Seppanen K, Nyyssonen K, Korpela H, Kauhanen J, Kantola M, Tuomilehto J, Esterbauer H, Tatzber F, Salonen R (1995) Intake of mercury from fish, lipid peroxidation, and the risk of myocardial infarction and coronary, cardiovascular, and any death in eastern fisher men. Circulation 91:645–655PubMedGoogle Scholar
  83. Salonen JT, Seppanen K, Lakka TA, Salonen R, Kaplan GA (2000) Mercury accumulation and accelerated progression of carotid atherosclerosis: a population-based prospective 4 year follows up study in men in eastern Finland. Atherosclerosis 148:265–273PubMedGoogle Scholar
  84. Sekine T, Cha SH, Endou H (2000) The multispecific organic anion transporter (OAT) family. Pflugers Arch 440:337–350PubMedGoogle Scholar
  85. Shanker G, Allen JW, Mutkus LA (2001) Methylmercury inhibits cysteine uptake in cultured primary astrocytes, but not in neurons. Brain Res 914:159–165PubMedGoogle Scholar
  86. Shenker BJ, Guo TL, Shapiro IM (1999) Induction of apoptosis in human T-cells by methyl mercury: temporal relationship between mitochondrial dysfunction and loss of reductive reserve. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 157:23–35PubMedGoogle Scholar
  87. Sigerest HE (1996) Four treatises of Theophrastus von Hohenheim called Paracelsus. The Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  88. Sone N, Margareta K, Larsstuvold, Kagawa Y (1977) Effect of methyl mercury on phosphorylation, transport, and oxidation in mammalian mitochondria. J Biochem 82:859–868PubMedGoogle Scholar
  89. Sorensen N, Murata K, Budtz-Jorgensen E, Weihe P, Grandjean P (1999) Prenatal methylmercury exposure as a cardiovascular risk factor at seven years of age. Epidemiology 10:370–375PubMedGoogle Scholar
  90. Spangler WJ, Sigarelli JL, Miller HM (1972) Studies on the biomethylation of mercury. Midwest Research Institute, Kansus CityGoogle Scholar
  91. Spangler WJ, Spigarelli JL, Rose JM, Flippin RS, Miller HH (1973) Degradation of methylmercury by bacteria isolated from environmental samples. Appl Microbiol 25:488–493PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  92. Steuerwald U, Weihe P, Jorgensen PJ, Bjerve K, Brock J, Heinzow B, Budtz-Jorgensen E, Grandjean P (2000) Maternal seafood diet, methyl-mercury exposure and neonatal neurological function. J Pediatr 136:599–605PubMedGoogle Scholar
  93. Takeuchi T, Norikawa N, Matsumoto H, Shiraishi Y (1962) Pathological study of Minamata disease in Japan. Acta Neuropathol 2:40–57Google Scholar
  94. Takeuchi T, Eto N, Eto K (1979) Neuropathology of childhood cases of methylmercury poisoning (Minamata disease) with prolonged symptoms, with particular reference to the decortication syndrome. Neurotoxicology 1:1–20Google Scholar
  95. Trakhtenberg IM (1964) Chronic effects of mercury on organisms: the micromercurialism phenomenon on mercury handlers. Ch VI: 109-34, DHEW Publ. No. (NIH) 74-473, and mercury: cardiovascular adverse effectsGoogle Scholar
  96. Turner MD, Marsh DO, Smith JC, Inglis JB, Clarkson TW, Rubio CE, Chiriboga J, Chiriboga CC (1980) Methylmercury in populations eating large quantities of marine fish. Arch Environ Health 35:367–378PubMedGoogle Scholar
  97. Verity MA, Brown WJ, Cheung M (1975) Organic mercurial encephalopathy: in vivo and in vitro effects of methylmercury on synaptosomal respiration. J Neurochem 25:759–766PubMedGoogle Scholar
  98. Vogel DG, Margolis R, Mottet NK (1989) Analysis of methylmercury binding sites on tubulin subunits and microtubules. Pharmacol Toxicol 64:196–201PubMedGoogle Scholar
  99. Volterra A, Trotti D, Racagni G (1994) Glutamate uptake is inhibited by arachidonic acid and oxygen radicals via two distinct and additive mechanisms. Mol Pharmacol 46:986–992PubMedGoogle Scholar
  100. Walters IJ, Wolery TJ (1974) Transfer of heavy metal pollutants from Lake Erie bottom sediments to the overlying water. Water Resources Center, Engineering Experiment Station, The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio, 43210Google Scholar
  101. Weir PA, Hine CH (1970) Effects of various metals on behavior of conditioned goldfish. Arch Environ Health 20:45PubMedGoogle Scholar
  102. World Health Organization (1989) Environmental health criteria 86: environmental aspects of mercury. International programme of chemical safety. World Health Organization, Geneva, p 115Google Scholar
  103. World Health Organization (1990) Methyl mercury, vol 101. Distribution and Sales Service, International Programme on Chemical Safety, Geneva, p 144Google Scholar
  104. World Health Organization (1991) Inorganic mercury, vol 118. Distribution and Sales Service, International Programme on Chemical Safety, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  105. Wright JG, Natan MJ, MacDonnell FM, Ralston DM, O’Halloran TV (1990) Mercury (II) thiolate chemistry and the mechanism of the heavy metal biosensor MerR. Prog Inorg Chem 38:323–412Google Scholar
  106. Yannai S, Berdicevsky I, Duek L (1991) Transformations of inorganic mercury by Candida albicans and saccharomyces cerevisiae. Appl Environ Microbiol 57:245–247PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  107. Yao CP, Allen JW, Conklin DR, Aschner M (1999) Transfection and overexpression of metallothionein-I in neonatal rat primary astrocyte cultures and in astrocytoma cells increases their resistance to methylmercury-induced cytotoxicity. Brain Res 818:414–420PubMedGoogle Scholar
  108. Yoshino Y, Mozai T, Nakao K (1966a) Biochemical changes in the brain in rats poisoned with an alkylmercury compound, with special reference to the inhibition of protein synthesis in brain cortex slices. J Neurochem 13:1223–1230PubMedGoogle Scholar
  109. Yoshino Y, Mozai T, Nakao K (1966b) Distribution of mercury in the brain and its subcellular units in experimental organic mercury poisoning. J Neurochem 13:397–406Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer India 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shabnum Nabi
    • 1
  1. 1.Interdisciplinary Brain Research Centre (IBRC) Jawaharlal Nehru Medical CollegeAligarh Muslim UniversityAligarhIndia

Personalised recommendations