Developmental exposure to methylmercury and ADHD, a literature review of epigenetic studies

Tao Ke, Alexey A. Tinkov, Antoly V. Skalny, Aaron B. Bowman, Joao B.T. Rocha, Abel Santamaria, Michael Aschner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the competence of academic performance and social wellness in children and adults. The causes of ADHD are unclear. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of ADHD. The behavioral impairments in ADHD are associated with epigenetic changes in genes that are important for neurodevelopment. Among environmental causes of ADHD, the neurotoxin methylmercury (MeHg) is associated with an increased risk for ADHD. Developing children are susceptible to neurotoxic effects of prenatal MeHg exposure. Human epidemiology studies have shown that prenatal MeHg exposure could invoke epigenetic changes in genes that are involved in ADHD. In addition, the pathogenesis of ADHD involves dopaminergic system, which is a target of developmental MeHg exposure. MeHg-induced alterations in the dopaminergic system have a profound impact on behavioral functions in adults. As a trace level of MeHg (around nM) can induce long-lasting behavioral alterations, potential mechanisms of MeHg-induced functional changes in the dopaminergic system may involve epigenetic mechanisms. Here, we review the relevant evidence on developmental MeHg exposures and the risk for ADHD. We also point out research gaps in understanding environmental causes of ADHD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberdvab014
JournalEnvironmental Epigenetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • DNA methylation
  • attention
  • dopamine
  • hyperactivity
  • mercury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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