Aerobic Fitness and Neurocognitive Function Scores in Young Faroese Adults and Potential Modification by Prenatal Methylmercury Exposure

Youssef Oulhote, Frodi Debes, Sonja Vestergaard, Pal Weihe, Philippe Grandjean

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BACKGROUND: Exposure to methylmercury was shown to decrease neural stem cell populations, whereas aerobic fitness has beneficial effects on the adult brain that relies on improved neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

OBJECTIVES: We examined the association between aerobic fitness and neurocognitive outcomes at young adult age, along with the potential moderating effect of prenatal exposure to methylmercury.

METHODS: At age 22 years, 262 members of a Faroese birth cohort, established in 1986-1987, underwent a graded exercise test of aerobic fitness to measure maximal oxygen uptake (VO2Max). Their prenatal methylmercury exposure had been assessed from the mercury concentration in cord blood. We estimated cross-sectional associations between VO2Max and multiple measures of neurocognitive function. In addition, we compared groups with low and high prenatal methylmercury exposure.

RESULTS: A 1 standard deviation (SD) increase in VO2Max was associated with better scores on short-term memory and cognitive processing speed by 0.21 SD (95% CI: -0.04, 0.46) and 0.28 SD (95% CI: 0.02, 0.54), respectively. In the group with lower prenatal methylmercury exposure, a 1 SD increase in VO2Max was associated with increased scores on cognitive processing speed by 0.45 SD (95% CI: 0.08, 0.81) and with a slightly lesser benefit in short-term memory. No such association was observed in the group with high prenatal methylmercury exposure.

CONCLUSIONS: Higher aerobic capacity was associated with better performance in short-term memory and processing speed. However, prenatal methylmercury exposure seemed to attenuate these positive associations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)677-683
Publication statusPublished - 2017



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