Evaluation of the use of metallothionein as a biomarker for detecting physiological responses to mercury exposure in the bonnethead, Sphyrna tiburo
Previous studies have demonstrated that sharks, perhaps more so than any other fishes, are capable of bioaccumulating the non-essential toxic metal mercury (Hg) to levels that threaten the health of human seafood consumers. However, few studies have explored the potential effects of Hg accumulation in sharks themselves. Therefore, the goal of this study was to examine if physiological effects occur in sharks in response to environmentally relevant levels of Hg exposure. To address this goal, the relationship between muscle Hg concentrations and muscle/hepatic levels of metallothionein (MT), a widely used protein biomarker of toxic metal exposure in fish, was examined in bonnetheads, Sphyrna tiburo, from three Florida estuaries. Total Hg concentrations in bonnethead muscle, as determined using thermal decomposition and atomic absorption spectrometry, ranged from 0.22 to 1.78 μg/g wet weight and were correlated with animal size. These observations were consistent with earlier studies on Florida bonnetheads, illustrating that they experience bioaccumulation of Hg, often to levels that threaten the health of these animals or consumers of their meat. However, despite this, MT concentrations measured using Western blot analysis were not correlated with muscle Hg concentrations. These results suggest that either environmentally relevant levels of Hg exposure and uptake are below the physiological threshold for inducing effects in sharks or MT is a poor biomarker of Hg exposure in these fishes. Of these two explanations, the latter is favored based on a growing body of evidence that questions the use of MTs as specific indicators of Hg exposure and effects in fish. © 2014 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.
Fish Physiology and Biochemistry
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Walker, Gelsleichter, J., Adams, D. H., & Manire, C. A. (2014). Evaluation of the use of metallothionein as a biomarker for detecting physiological responses to mercury exposure in the bonnethead, Sphyrna tiburo. Fish Physiology and Biochemistry, 40(5), 1361–1371. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10695-014-9930-y