Mercury neurotoxicity: mechanisms of blood-brain barrier transport

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1990 Summer;14(2):169-76. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(05)80217-9.


Mercury exists in a wide variety of physical and chemical states, each of which has unique characteristics of target organ toxicity. The classic symptoms associated with exposure to elemental mercury vapor (Hg0) and methylmercury (CH3Hg+; MeHg) involve the central nervous system (CNS), while the kidney is the target organ for the mono- and divalent salts of mercury (Hg+ and Hg++, respectively). Physical properties and redox potentials determine the qualitative and quantitative differences in toxicity among inorganic mercury compounds, while the ability of MeHg to cross the blood-brain barrier accounts for its accumulation in the CNS and a clinical picture that is dominated by neurological disturbances. This review gives an up-to-date account of mercury's physical and chemical properties and its interaction with biologically active sites pertinent to transport across the blood-brain barrier, a major regulator of the CNS millieu.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport, Active / drug effects
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / drug effects*
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Mercury / pharmacokinetics*
  • Mercury / toxicity
  • Methylmercury Compounds / pharmacokinetics


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Mercury