Effects of prenatal methylmercury exposure from a high fish diet on developmental milestones in the Seychelles Child Development Study

G. J. Myers, P. W. Davidson, C. F. Shamlaye, C. D. Axtell, E. Cernichiari, O. Choisy, A. Choi, C. Cox, T. W. Clarkson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Mercury is widespread in the environment and exists in several physical and chemical forms. Prenatal exposure to methylmercury disrupts brain development. The most common mode of prenatal methylmercury exposure is maternal fish consumption. Studies of human prenatal exposure in Iraq following maternal ingestion of methylmercury treated grain suggested that maternal hair mercury concentrations above 10 ppm may be related to delayed developmental milestones and neurological abnormalities. This level of exposure can be achieved by frequent consumption of fish. The Seychelles Child Development Study analyzed developmental milestones similar to those determined in Iraq in a large controlled, prospective study of children exposed prenatally to methylmercury when their mothers ate fish. As part of this ongoing study, cohort children were evaluated at 6.5, 19, 29, and 66 months of age. At 19 months care-givers were asked at what age the child walked (n=720 out of 738) and talked (n=680). Prenatal mercury exposure was determined by atomic absorption analysis of maternal hair segments corresponding to hair growth during the pregnancy. The median mercury level in maternal hair was 5.8 ppm with a range of 0.5 - 26.7 ppm. The mean age (in months) at walking was 10.7 (SD = 1.9) for females and 10.6 (SD = 2.0) for males. The mean age at talking (in months) was 10.5 (SD = 2.6) for females, and 11.0 (SD = 2.9) for males. After adjusting for covariates and statistical outliers, no association was found between the age at which Seychellois children walked or talked and prenatal exposure to mercury. Normal ages at achievement of the developmental milestones walking and talking were found in Seychellois toddlers following prenatal exposure to methylmercury from a maternal fish diet. These results do not support the lowest effect levels in young children following prenatal methylmercury exposure predicted by the dose response analysis of the Iraq data. More detailed studies in older children are needed to determine if there are adverse effects in fish eating populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)819-830
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Child development
  • Fish diet
  • Mercury
  • Methylmercury
  • Prenatal exposure
  • Seychelles child development study

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Toxicology


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