John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Ecogenetics of mercury: From genetic polymorphisms and epigenetics to risk assessment and decision‐making

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The risk assessment of mercury (Hg), in both humans and wildlife, is made challenging by great variability in exposure and health effects. Though disease risk arises following complex interactions between genetic (“nature”) and environmental (“nurture”) factors, a majority of Hg studies thus far have focused solely on environmental factors. In recent years ecogenetic‐based studies have emerged and have started to document that genetic and epigenetic factors may indeed influence the toxicokinetics and/or toxicodynamics of Hg. The purpose of this paper is to review these studies, to discuss their utility in terms of Hg risk assessment, management and policy, and to offer our perspectives on fruitful areas of future research. In brief, epidemiological studies on populations exposed to inorganic Hg (e.g., dentists and miners) or methylmercury (e.g., fish consumers) are showing that polymorphisms in a number of environmentally responsive genes can explain variations in Hg biomarker values and health outcomes. Studies on mammals (wildlife, humans, rodents) are showing Hg exposures to be related to epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation. Such findings are beginning to increase our understanding of Hg's mechanisms of actions, and in doing so they may help us identify candidate biomarkers and pinpoint susceptible groups or lifestages. Further, they may help refine uncertainty factors, and thus lead to more accurate risk assessments and improved decision‐making. Environ Toxicol Chem © 2013 SETAC

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