Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 421
Title: Morphological abnormalities and sensorimotor deficits in larval fish exposed to dissolved saxitoxin
Author: K. A. Lefebvre, Vera L. Trainer, N. L. Scholz
Publication Year: 2004
Journal: Aquatic Toxicology
Volume: 66
Issue: 2
Pages: 159-170

The dietary uptake of one suite of dinoflagellate-produced neurotoxins, that are commonly called paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins, is known to cause acute fish kills.  However, little is known about the effects of dissolved phase exposure and the potential sublethal effects of this route of exposure on early developmental stages of fish.  Toxin exposure during early development is of particular concern because the embryos and larvae of some marine fish species may be unable to actively avoid the dissolved toxins that algal cells release into the water column during harmful algal blooms.  Here we use the zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a model experimental system to explore the sublethal effects of a dissolved PSP toxin, saxitoxin (STX), on early development in fish, including sensorimotor function, morphology, and long-term growth and survival.  Aqueous phase exposures of 229 ±7 μg STX eq. l−1 caused reductions in sensorimotor function as early as 48 h postfertilization (hpf) and paralysis in all larvae by 4 days postfertilization (dpf).  Rohon–Beard mechanosensory neurons appeared to be more sensitive to STX than dorsal root ganglion neurons at this dose.  Additionally, exposure to 481 ±40 μg STX eq. l−1 resulted in severe edema of the eye, pericardium, and yolk sac in all exposed larvae by 6 dpf.  The onset of paralysis in STX-exposed larvae was stage-specific, with older larvae becoming paralyzed more quickly than younger larvae (5 h at 6 dpf as compared to 8 and 46 h for 4 and 2 dpf larvae, respectively).  When transferred to clean water, many larvae recovered from the morphological and sensorimotor effects of STX.  Thus, the sublethal effects of the toxin on larval morphology and behavior were reversible.  However, zebrafish exposed to STX transiently during larval development (from 2 to 4 dpf) had significantly reduced growth and survival at 18 and 30 days of age.  Collectively, these data show that (1) dissolved phase STX is bioavailable to fish embryos and larvae, (2) the toxin is a paralytic with potencies that are stage-specific for fish larvae, (3) the observed toxicological effects of STX exposure are reversible, and (4) a short-term toxin exposure can negatively impact the survival of fish several weeks later.  Dissolved algal toxins may therefore have important sublethal effects on vulnerable species of fish.

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