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Histologic, immunologic and endocrine biomarkers indicate contaminant effects in fishes of the Ashtabula River

January 1, 2012

The use of fish as sentinels of aquatic ecosystem health is a biologically relevant approach to environmental monitoring and assessment. We examined the health of the Ashtabula River using histologic, immunologic, and endocrine biomarkers in brown bullhead (BB; Ameiurus nebulosus) and largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and compared fish collected from a reference site (Conneaut Creek). Seasonal analysis was necessary to distinguish differences in fish between the two rivers. Overall BB from the Ashtabula River had a lower condition factor and significantly more macrophage aggregates than those from the reference site. Reduced bactericidal and cytotoxic-cell activity was observed in anterior kidney leukocytes from both BB and largemouth bass from the Ashtabula River. Lower plasma thyroxine and triiodo-L-thyronine in both species in the Ashtabula River indicated disruption of the thyroid axis. Differences in physiological biomarker responses were supported by body burden chemical concentrations when data were analyzed on a seasonal basis. The use of two fish species added a level of rigor that demonstrated biological effects were not exclusive to a single species. The results provide strong evidence that contaminants have affected fish in the Ashtabula River, a Great Lakes Area of Concern, and provide a baseline by which to evaluate remediation activities.