Neurotoxicity of mercury: An old issue with contemporary significance

Vasco Branco, Michael Aschner, Cristina Carvalho

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

21 Scopus citations


Mercury exerts a variety of toxic effects, depending on the specific compound and route of exposure. However, neurotoxicity in virtue of its consequence to health causes the greatest concern for toxicologists. This is particularly true regarding fetal development, where neurotoxic effects are much more severe than in adults, and the toxicity threshold is lower. Here, we review the major concepts regarding the neurotoxicity of mercury compounds (mercury vapor; methylmercury and ethylmercury), from exposure routes to toxicokinetic particularities leading to brain deposition and the development of neurotoxic effects. Albeit research on the neurotoxicity of mercury compounds has significantly advanced from the second half of the twentieth century onwards, several gray areas regarding the mechanism of toxicity still exist. Thus, we emphasize research advances during the last two decades concerning the molecular interactions of mercury which cause neurotoxic effects. Highlights include the disruption of glutamate signaling and excitotoxicity resulting from exposure to mercury and the interaction with redox active residues such as cysteines and selenocysteines which are the premise accounting for the disruption of redox homeostasis caused by mercurials. We also address how immunotoxic effects at the CNS, namely microglia and astrocyte activation modulate developmental neurotoxicity, a major topic in contemporary research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNeurotoxicity of Metals
Subtitle of host publicationOld Issues and New Developments
EditorsMichael Aschner, Lucio G. Costa, Lucio G. Costa
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)9780128237755
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Publication series

NameAdvances in Neurotoxicology
ISSN (Electronic)2468-7480


  • Mercury
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Neuronal signaling and cellular energetics
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Oxidative stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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