Epigenetics of methylmercury

Neurotoxicology. 2023 Jul:97:34-46. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2023.05.004. Epub 2023 May 8.


Purpose of review: Methylmercury (MeHg) is neurotoxic at high levels and particularly affects the developing brain. One proposed mechanism of MeHg neurotoxicity is alteration of the epigenetic programming. In this review, we summarise the experimental and epidemiological literature on MeHg-associated epigenetic changes.

Recent findings: Experimental and epidemiological studies have identified changes in DNA methylation following in utero exposure to MeHg, and some of the changes appear to be persistent. A few studies have evaluated associations between MeHg-related changes in DNA methylation and neurodevelopmental outcomes. Experimental studies reveal changes in histone modifications after MeHg exposure, but we lack epidemiological studies supporting such changes in humans. Experimental and epidemiological studies have identified microRNA-related changes associated with MeHg; however, more research is needed to conclude if these changes lead to persistent and toxic effects.

Summary: MeHg appears to interfere with epigenetic processes, potentially leading to persistent changes. However, observed associations of mercury with epigenetic changes are as of yet of unknown relevance to neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Keywords: DNA methylation; Histone modifications; Methylmercury; Neurodevelopment; Toxicity; miRNA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Methylmercury Compounds* / toxicity
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes* / genetics


  • Methylmercury Compounds