Neurodevelopmental Effects of Low-Level Prenatal Mercury Exposure From Maternal Fish Consumption in a Mediterranean Cohort: Study Rationale and Design

J Epidemiol. 2013;23(2):146-52. doi: 10.2188/jea.je20120030. Epub 2012 Dec 22.


Background: Mercury is a neurotoxic environmental pollutant. However, the literature on the neurodevelopmental effect of low-level prenatal mercury exposure from maternal fish intake is inconsistent. We assessed the association between prenatal mercury exposure and infant neurodevelopment in coastal areas of 4 Mediterranean countries.

Methods: This was a prospective cohort study that planned to enroll approximately 1700 mother-infant pairs. Pregnant women and their newborn children were recruited in selected hospitals of the study areas. Biological samples, including maternal hair and cord blood, were collected from mothers and children, and the concentrations of mercury and other elements were measured. Exposures to lifestyle, environmental, and social factors were assessed through questionnaires. The main outcome was child neurodevelopment at 18 months, as measured by the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, Third Edition.

Conclusions: This cohort has a number of strengths. First, mercury concentration was measured in several biological samples, which allows for a better understanding of mercury kinetics and is useful for sensitivity analyses. Therefore, we expect to be able to adjust for the potential confounding effects of lifestyle and social factors and for the effects of other elements that were measured in the biological samples. Finally, this is a multinational study and thus permits assessment of the relation between mercury and child neurodevelopment in different populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Child Development / drug effects
  • Female
  • Fishes*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Food Contamination*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Mediterranean Region / epidemiology
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System / epidemiology*
  • Nervous System / drug effects
  • Nervous System / growth & development
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Research Design