The neurotoxicology and pathology of organomercury, organolead, and organotin

J Toxicol Sci. 1990 Dec;15 Suppl 4:125-51. doi: 10.2131/jts.15.supplementiv_125.


The toxicities of many metals, such as mercury and lead, are known to man since the dawn of civilization. Organic compounds of some heavy metals are known to have a particular toxic impact on the central nervous system. Organomercury, particularly alkyl-mercuric compounds (e.g. methylmercury), has a selective effect on the granule cells of the cerebellum, the nerve cells of the calcarine cortex, and the sensory neurons in the dorsal root ganglia. The well known Minamata Bay disease is the result of a massive epidemic episode of human exposure to alkylmercury contaminated food sources. Mental retardation and other developmental defects are also known to be a consequence of exposure to this toxic metal. Organic lead compounds have been employed as gasoline additives and in other industrial purposes. Unlike its inorganic counterpart, organolead compounds have a more prominent impact on the central nervous system. Pathological changes of the brain stem neurons have been described. Organotin compounds have been used in plastic industries and as agricultural chemicals. Both trimethyl and triethyl tin compounds are found to be extremely neurotoxic. Despite the similarity of their chemical structures, trimethyl and triethyl tins have a diversely different toxic property and effects. While triethyl tin is myelinotoxic, producing edematous and vacuolar changes in the central myelin, trimethyl tin is neurotoxic, producing prominent toxic changes in the neurons of the limbic system (hippocampus, entorhinal cortex, etc.). The factors which determine the specificity and selectivity of the neurotoxic impacts by various organometals are still unknown. In view that most of the organometals are still widely employed by many countries for industrial and for agricultural purposes, caution must be made for their proper handling and disposure to avoid undesirable exposures to workers and environmental contamination of water sources and food-chain for the common public. Since organometals are difficult to eliminate from the central nervous system, injuries usually lead to permanent neurological deficits, such tragedies are frequently long lasting and create not only a medical problem, but also a social economical problem for the society.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lead / toxicity*
  • Mercury Poisoning / pathology
  • Mice
  • Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Nervous System / pathology
  • Organomercury Compounds / poisoning
  • Organomercury Compounds / toxicity*
  • Organometallic Compounds / toxicity*
  • Organotin Compounds / toxicity*
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Triethyltin Compounds / toxicity
  • Trimethyltin Compounds / toxicity


  • Organomercury Compounds
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Organotin Compounds
  • Triethyltin Compounds
  • Trimethyltin Compounds
  • trimethyltin
  • Lead
  • triethyltin