Prenatal methylmercury exposure from ocean fish consumption in the Seychelles child development study.

INTRODUCTION: Exposure to methylmercury (MeHg) before birth can adversely affect children’s neurodevelopment. The most common form of prenatal exposure is maternal fish consumption, but whether such exposure harms the fetus is unknown. We aimed to identify adverse neurodevelopmental effects in a fish-consuming population.

METHODS: We investigated 779 mother-infant pairs residing in the Republic of Seychelles. Mothers reported consuming fish on average 12 meals per week. Fish in Seychelles contain much the same concentrations of MeHg as commercial ocean fish elsewhere. Prenatal MeHg exposure was determined from maternal hair growing during pregnancy. We assessed neurocognitive, language, memory, motor, perceptual-motor, and behavioural functions in children at age 9 years. The association between prenatal MeHg exposure and the primary endpoints was investigated with multiple linear regression with adjustment for covariates that affect child development.

FINDINGS: Mean prenatal MeHg exposure was 6.9 parts per million (SD 4.5 ppm). Only two endpoints were associated with prenatal MeHg exposure. Increased exposure was associated with decreased performance in the grooved pegboard using the non-dominant hand in males and improved scores in the hyperactivity index of the Conner’s teacher rating scale. Covariates affecting child development were appropriately associated with endpoints.

INTERPRETATION: These data do not support the hypothesis that there is a neurodevelopmental risk from prenatal MeHg exposure resulting solely from ocean fish consumption.