In evaluating the health effects in the offspring born to the mothers exposed to methylmercury (MeHg) during pregnancy, biomarkers obtained from maternal blood and hair, and umbilical cord have been employed for the exposure assessment. However, which biomarker is employed may affect the study conclusion. In this sense, umbilical cord mercury concentration appears to be a direct exposure biomarker of the fetus. We present an overview of the studies addressing umbilical cord and mercury and scrutinize the usefulness of umbilical cord samples for intrauterine exposure assessment of MeHg. The mean total mercury concentration in cord blood ranged from 0.5 to 35.6 μg/L among the studies reviewed. In Japanese populations, MeHg concentrations in dry cord tissue did not exceed 0.4 μg/g.
Also, dry cord tissue would be preferable to wet tissue because the definition of wet weight of the umbilical cord is ambiguous. The cord blood-to-maternal blood ratio of mercury concentrations differed considerably among mother-child pairs despite the significant positive correlation between the cord and maternal mercury concentrations. Moreover, the increased cord mercury concentration was associated with some neurobehavioral and neurophysiological deficits in child. Therefore, mercury concentrations in cord blood and tissue can be accepted as more useful and valid biomarkers of fetal exposure to MeHg, for assessing a dose-response relationship in children at the developmental stage, than maternal mercury concentrations at parturition. Because umbilical cord blood has been used for cord-blood stem cell transplants, dry umbilical cord tissue should be effectively utilized for the advancement of medical sciences.