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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

An autopsy case of minamata disease (methylmercury poisoning)--pathological viewpoints of peripheral nerves.

The outbreak of methylmercury poisoning in the geographic areas around Minamata Bay, Kumamoto, Japan in the 1950s has become known as Minamata disease. Based on earlier reports and extensive pathological studies on autopsied cases at the Kumamoto University School of Medicine, destructive lesions in the anterior portion of the calcarine cortex and depletion predominantly of granular cells in the cerebellar cortex came to be recognized as the hallmark and diagnostic yardstick of methylmercury poisoning in humans. As the number of autopsy cases of Minamata disease increased, it became apparent that the cerebral lesion was not restricted to the calcarine cortex but was relatively widespread. Less severe lesions, believed to be responsible for the motor symptoms of Minamata patients, were often found in the precentral, postcentral, and lateral temporal cortices. These patients also frequently presented with signs of sensory neuropathy affecting the distal extremities. Because of few sufficiently comprehensive studies, peripheral nerve degeneration has not been universally accepted as a cause of the sensory disturbances in Minamata patients. The present paper describes both biopsy and autopsy findings of the peripheral nerves in a male fisherman who died at the age of 64 years and showed the characteristic central nervous system lesions of Minamata disease at autopsy. A sural nerve biopsy with electron microscopy performed 1 month prior to his death showed endoneurial fibrosis and regenerated myelin sheaths. At autopsy the dorsal roots and sural nerve showed endoneurial fibrosis, loss of nerve fibers, and presence of Büngner's bands. The spinal cord showed Wallerian degeneration of the fasciculus gracilis (Goll's tract) with relative preservation of neurons in sensory ganglia. These findings support the contention that there is peripheral nerve degeneration in Minamata patients due to toxic injury from methylmercury.[1]


  1. An autopsy case of minamata disease (methylmercury poisoning)--pathological viewpoints of peripheral nerves. Eto, K., Tokunaga, H., Nagashima, K., Takeuchi, T. Toxicologic pathology. (2002) [Pubmed]
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