Thimerosal and autism? A plausible hypothesis that should not be dismissed

Med Hypotheses. 2004;62(5):788-94. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2003.11.033.


The autism-mercury hypothesis first described by Bernard et al. has generated much interest and controversy. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reviewed the connection between mercury-containing vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism. They concluded that the hypothesis was biologically plausible but that there was insufficient evidence to accept or reject a causal connection and recommended a comprehensive research program. Without citing new experimental evidence, a number of observers have offered opinions on the subject, some of which reject the IOM's conclusions. In a recent review, Nelson and Bauman argue that a link between the preservative thimerosal, the source of the mercury in childhood vaccines, is improbable. In their defense of thimerosal, these authors take a narrow view of the original hypothesis, provide no new evidence, and rely on selective citations and flawed reasoning. We provide evidence here to refute the Nelson and Bauman critique and to defend the autism-mercury hypothesis.

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Comorbidity
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System / epidemiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / poisoning*
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Thimerosal / poisoning*


  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • Thimerosal