What is the pathophysiology of mercury toxicity?

Updated: Nov 05, 2018
  • Author: David A Olson, MD; Chief Editor: Tarakad S Ramachandran, MBBS, MBA, MPH, FAAN, FACP, FAHA, FRCP, FRCPC, FRS, LRCP, MRCP, MRCS  more...
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Answer

Organic methylmercury toxicity and inorganic mercury toxicity show different pathologic effects. Organic methylmercury toxicity causes prominent neuronal loss and gliosis in the calcarine and parietal cortices and cerebellar folia, as seen in cases of classic Minamata disease. [7]

Inorganic mercury causes cerebral infarctions, as well as systemic features, such as pneumonia, renal cortical necrosis, and disseminated intravascular coagulopathy. A more diffuse, direct neuronal toxicity may also exist with organic mercury, as the brain weights of patients with Minamata disease are substantially lower than those of controls. [8]

Nevertheless, both types of exposure may blur. In monkey models of methylmercury intoxication, demethylation resulted in inorganic mercury deposition in brain cells. [9]


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