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Correlations between mercury concentrations in umbilical cord tissue and other biomarkers of fetal exposure to methylmercury in the Japanese population

Methylmercury (MeHg) is one of the most risky substances to affect humans through fish consumption, and the fetus is known to be in the most susceptible group. Our objective in this study is to examine the relationships of total mercury (THg) and MeHg concentrations between umbilical cord tissue and other tissues as biomarkers of fetal exposure to MeHg in the Japanese population. In total, 116 paired samples were collected in three Japanese districts, the Tsushima Islands, Fukuoka City, and Katsushika ward of metropolitan Tokyo. THg was measured for hair and THg and MeHg were measured in cord tissues, maternal blood, and cord blood. The relationships among tissues in Hg concentrations were similar among districts. Therefore, we analyzed the relationships using all the samples. More than 90% of Hg in cord tissue, cord blood, and maternal blood was MeHg. THg and MeHg in cord blood was about two times higher than in maternal blood. A strong correlation was found between THg and MeHg in cord tissue. The cord tissue THg and MeHg showed a strong correlation with cord blood Hg, which is recognized as the best biomarker for fetal exposure to MeHg. The findings of this study indicate the significance of cord tissue THg and MeHg as biomarkers for fetal exposure to MeHg at parturition.