Mercury, APOE, and child behavior

Chemosphere. 2015 Feb;120:123-30. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2014.06.003. Epub 2014 Jul 9.


Methylmercury (MeHg) is a neurotoxicant and may have an adverse impact on child behavior. However, this impact was found to be inconsistent in fish-eating populations. Although the positive effects of the nutrients provided by a fish diet may overcome the effect of MeHg, the possibility of genetic variants influencing an individual's response to MeHg has also been discussed. The role of the Apolipoprotein E (APOE) epsilon 4 allele (ε4) on MeHg related neurotoxicity is still unclear. In the present study, we investigated the role of APOE variants in the relationship between cord blood mercury (Hg) and child behavior. A total of 166 subjects were recruited at delivery, and their cord blood was collected for laboratory analyses of Hg and the APOE genotype. The Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) was administered to the subjects when they reached the age of two years. An increase in cord blood Hg concentrations in APOE ε4 carriers was consistently associated with an increased score for all CBCL syndromes. After controlling for potential confounding factors, the group of ε4 carriers with an elevated cord blood Hg concentration had significantly higher scores in the syndrome categories of general internalizing, emotionally reactive, and anxiety/depression as well as CBCL total scores. Furthermore, general externalizing and aggressive syndromes were borderline significantly higher in this group. In conclusion, we suggest that APOE may modify the toxicity of MeHg. APOE ε4 carriers may be more vulnerable to the effects of MeHg on child behavior at the age of two years.

Keywords: Apolipoprotein E (APOE); Child Behavior Checklists/1.5-5 (CBCL/1.5-5); Child behavior; Genetic susceptibility; Methylmercury (MeHg).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / drug effects*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry
  • Fishes / metabolism
  • Food Chain
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mercury / blood
  • Mercury / toxicity*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / genetics
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Taiwan


  • Apolipoproteins E
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Mercury