Behavioral effects of low-level exposure to elemental Hg among dentists

Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1995 Mar-Apr;17(2):161-8. doi: 10.1016/0892-0362(94)00049-j.


Exposure thresholds for health effects associated with elemental mercury (Hg degree) exposure were examined by comparing behavioral test scores of 19 exposed (mean urinary Hg = 36 micrograms/l) with those of 20 unexposed dentists. Thirty-six micrograms Hg/l is 7 times greater than the 5 micrograms Hg/l mean level measured in a national sample of dentists. To improve the distinction between recent and cumulative effects, the study also evaluated porphyrin concentrations in urine, which are correlated with renal Hg content (a measure of cumulative body burden). Subjects provided an on-site spot urine sample, were administered a 1-h assessment consisting of a consent form, the Profile of Mood Scales, a symptom and medical questionnaire, and 6 behavioral tests: digit-span, symbol-digit substitution, simple reaction time, the ability to switch between tasks, vocabulary, and the One Hole Test. Multivariate regression techniques were used to evaluate dose-effects controlling for the effects of age, race, gender and alcohol consumption. A dose-effect was considered statistically significant below a p value of 0.05. Significant urinary Hg dose-effects were found for poor mental concentration, emotional lability, somatosensory irritation, and mood scores. Individual tests evaluating cognitive and motor function changed in the expected directions but were not significantly associated with urinary Hg. However, the pooled sum of rank scores for combinations of tests within domains were significantly associated with urinary Hg, providing evidence of subtle preclinical changes in behavior associated with Hg exposure. Coproporphyrin, one of three urinary porphyrins altered by mercury exposure, was significantly associated with deficits in digit span and simple reaction time.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Affect / drug effects
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Biomarkers / chemistry
  • Body Burden
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dentists / psychology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Male
  • Maximum Allowable Concentration
  • Mercury / adverse effects*
  • Mercury / urine
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Occupational Health*
  • Regression Analysis


  • Biomarkers
  • Mercury