Persistence of mercury-induced motor and sensory neurotoxicity: systematic review of workers previously exposed to mercury vapor

Cheryl A. Fields, Jonathan Borak, Elan D. Louis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Elemental mercury (Hg0) is a well-recognized neurotoxicant, but it is uncertain whether and for how long its neurotoxicity persists. Among studies that evaluated previously-exposed workers, only one examined workers during and also years after exposure had ceased. The objective of this review is to create a series of ‘synthetic’ longitudinal studies to address the question of persistence of Hg0 neurotoxicity in occupationally exposed workers. We systematically reviewed studies describing objective motor and sensory effects in previously-exposed mercury workers. Data from physical examination (PE), neurobehavioral (NB) tests, and electrophysiological studies (EPS) were extracted into structured tables and examined for their consistency and dose-relatedness and then compared with the corresponding results from studies of currently exposed workers. We identified six cohorts that described neurological findings in 1299 workers, examined an average of 4.8–30 years after the cessation of exposure. Historical group mean UHg levels ranged from 23 to >500 μg/L, with UHg levels >6000 μg/L in some individuals. Overall, few findings were significant; most were inconsistent across the previous-exposure studies, and in comparisons between studies of previously and currently exposed workers. The results of this systematic review indicate that Hg0-related neurotoxic effects detectable on PE, NB testing, and EPS are substantially reversed over time. To the extent that such effects do persist, they are reported principally in workers who have had very high-dose exposures. In addition, based on the limited available data, those effects reported to persist have been described as having little or no functional significance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)845-866
Number of pages22
JournalCritical Reviews in Toxicology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 26 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Occupational disease
  • electrophysiological studies
  • elemental mercury
  • motor function
  • neurobehavioral function
  • neurotoxicity
  • persistence
  • physical examination
  • tremor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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