[Methylmercury causes diffuse damage to the somatosensory cortex: how to diagnose Minamata disease]
Department of Histology, Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Kumamoto University.
The first acute case of methylmercury (MeHg) poisoning by the consumption of fish arose in Minamata, Japan, in 1953. It was officially recognized and called Minamata disease (MD) in 1956. There are still arguments about the definition of MD in terms of its associated clinical symptoms and lesions even 50 years after the initial recognition of MD. Studies on this MD epidemic are reviewed along with its historical background. Since MeHg dispersed from Minamata to the Shiranui Sea, residents living around the sea had been exposed to low-dose MeHg through fish consumption for about 20 years (at least from 1950 to 1968). These chronic MeHg poisoning patients complained of paresthesia at the distal parts of their extremities and around the lips even 30 years after the cessation of exposure to MeHg of anthropogenic origin. The persisting somatosensory disorders after the discontinuation of exposure to MeHg were induced by diffuse damage to the somatosensory cortex, but not by damage to the peripheral nervous system, as previously believed. Based on these findings, symptoms and lesions in MeHg poisoning are reappraised.
PMID: 17642257 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]