The plausibility of a role for mercury in the etiology of autism: a cellular perspective.
Toxicol Environ Chem. 2011 May ;93(5-6):1251-1273. Epub 2011 May 20. PMID: 22163375
Autism is defined by a behavioral set of stereotypic and repetitious behavioral patterns in combination with social and communication deficits. There is emerging evidence supporting the hypothesis that autism may result from a combination of genetic susceptibility and exposure to environmental toxins at critical moments in development. Mercury (Hg) is recognized as a ubiquitous environmental neurotoxin and there is mounting evidence linking it to neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism. Of course, the evidence is not derived from experimental trials with humans but rather from methods focusing on biomarkers of Hg damage, measurements of Hg exposure, epidemiological data, and animal studies. For ethical reasons, controlled Hg exposure in humans will never be conducted. Therefore, to properly evaluate the Hg-autism etiological hypothesis, it is essential to first establish the biological plausibility of the hypothesis. This review examines the plausibility of Hg as the primary etiological agent driving the cellular mechanisms by which Hg-induced neurotoxicity may result in the physiological attributes of autism. Key areas of focus include: (1) route and cellular mechanisms of Hg exposure in autism; (2) current research and examples of possible genetic variables that are linked to both Hg sensitivity and autism; (3) the role Hg may play as an environmental toxin fueling the oxidative stress found in autism; (4) role of mitochondrial dysfunction; and (5) possible role of Hg in abnormal neuroexcitory and excitotoxity that may play a role in the immune dysregulation found in autism. Future research directions that would assist in addressing the gaps in our knowledge are proposed.