Neurological and neurocognitive functions from intrauterine methylmercury exposure

In the 1950s, large-scale food poisoning caused by methylmercury was identified in Minamata, Japan. Although severe intrauterine exposure cases (ie, congenital Minamata disease patients) are well known, possible impacts of methylmercury exposure in utero among residents, which is likely at lower levels than in congenital Minamata disease patients, are rarely explored. In 2014, the authors examined neurological and neurocognitive functions among 18 exposed participants in Minamata, focusing on fine motor, visuospatial construction, and executive functions. More than half of the participants had some fine motor and coordination difficulties. In addition, several participants had lower performance for neurocognitive function tests (the Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure test and Keio version of the Wisconsin card sorting test). These deficits imply diffuse brain damage. This study suggests possible neurological and neurocognitive impacts of prenatal exposure to methylmercury among exposed residents of Minamata.