Effects of methyl mercury exposure on pancreatic beta cell development and function.
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Methyl mercury is an environmental contaminant of worldwide concern. Since the discovery of methyl mercury exposure due to eating contaminated fish as the underlying cause of the Minamata disaster, the scientific community has known about the sensitivity of the developing central nervous system to mercury toxicity. Warnings are given to pregnant women and young children to limit consumption of foods containing methyl mercury to protect the embryonic, fetal and postnatally developing central nervous system. However, evidence also suggests that exposure to methyl mercury or various forms of inorganic mercury may also affect development and function of other organs. Numerous reports indicate a worldwide increase in diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes. Quite recently, methyl mercury has been shown to have adverse effects on pancreatic beta () cell development and function, resulting in insulin resistance and hyperglycemia and may even lead to the development of diabetes. This review discusses possible mechanisms by which methyl mercury exposure may adversely affect pancreatic cell development and function, and the role that methyl mercury exposure may have in the reported worldwide increase in diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes. While additional information is needed regarding associations between mercury exposure and specific mechanisms of the pathogenesis of diabetes in the human population, methyl mercury's adverse effects on the body's natural sources of antioxidants suggest that one possible therapeutic strategy could involve supplementation with antioxidants. Thus, it is important that additional investigation be undertaken into the role of methyl mercury exposure and reduced pancreatic cell function. Copyright 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.