Neurodevelopmental effects of maternal nutritional status and exposure to methylmercury from eating fish during pregnancy

Philip W. Davidson, JJ Strain, Gary J. Myers, Sally W. Thurston, Maxine P. Bonham, Conrad F. Shamlaye, Abbie Stokes-Riner, Julie Wallace, Paula J. Robson, Emeir M. Duffy, Lesley A. Georger, Jean Sloane-Reeves, Elsa Cernichiari, Richard L. Canfield, Christopher Cox, Li Shan Huang, Joanne Janciuras, Thomas W. Clarkson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

169 Citations (Scopus)


Fish contain nutrients that promote optimal brain growth and development but also contain methylmercury (MeHg) that can have toxic effects. The present study tested the hypothesis that the intake of selected nutrients in fish or measures of maternal nutritional status may represent important confounders when estimating the effects of prenatal methylmercury exposure on child development. The study took place in the Republic of Seychelles, an Indian ocean archipelago where fish consumption is high. A longitudinal cohort study design was used. A total of 300 mothers were enrolled early in pregnancy. Nutrients considered to be important for brain development were measured during pregnancy along with prenatal MeHg exposure. The children were evaluated periodically to age 30 months. There were 229 children with complete outcome and covariate data for analysis. The primary endpoint was the Bayley Scales of Infant Development-II (BSID-II), administered at 9 and 30 months of age. Combinations of four secondary measures of infant cognition and memory were also given at 5,9 and 25 months. Cohort mothers consumed an average of 537 g of fish (nine meals containing fish) per week. The average prenatal MeHg exposure was 5.9 ppm in maternal hair. The primary analysis examined the associations between MeHg, maternal nutritional measures and children's scores on the BSID-II and showed an adverse association between MeHg and the mean Psychomotor Developmental Index (PDI) score at 30 months. Secondary analyses of the association between the PDI and only MeHg alone or nutritional factors alone showed only a borderline significant association between MeHg and the PDI at 30 months and no associations with nutritional factors. One experimental measure at 5 months of age was positively associated with iodine status, but not prenatal MeHg exposure. These findings suggest a possible confounding role of maternal nutrition in studies examining associations between prenatal MeHg exposures and developmental outcomes in children. (C) 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)767-775
Issue number5, Sp.
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2008

Bibliographical note

24th International Neurotoxicology Conference on Environmental Etiologies of Neurological Disorders - Modifiers of Risk, San Antonio,
TX, NOV 11-14, 2007


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