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Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 2008 Apr;147(3):331-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpc.2007.12.003. Epub 2008 Jan 12.

Mercury toxicity in livers of northern pike (Esox lucius) from Isle Royale, USA.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056, USA.


Many laboratory studies have documented that mercury can be toxic to fish, but it is largely unknown if mercury is toxic to fish in their natural environments. The objective of our study was to investigate the toxic effects of mercury on northern pike (Esox lucius) at Isle Royale, Michigan. In 124 northern pike from eight inland lakes, concentrations of total mercury in skin-on fillets ranged from 0.069 to 0.622 microg/g wet mass (wet wt). Concentrations of total mercury in livers increased exponentially compared with concentrations in fillets, to a maximum of 3.1 microg/g wet wt. Methylmercury constituted a majority of the mercury in livers with total mercury concentrations <0.5 microg/g wet wt, but declined to 28-51% of the mercury in livers with total mercury concentrations >0.5 microg/g wet wt. Liver color (absorbance at 400 nm) varied among northern pike and was positively related to liver total mercury concentration. The pigment causing variation in liver color was identified as lipofuscin, which results from lipid peroxidation of membranous organelles. An analysis of covariance revealed lipofuscin accumulation was primarily associated with mercury exposure, and this association obscured any normal accumulation from aging. We also documented decreased lipid reserves in livers and poor condition factors of northern pike with high liver total mercury concentrations. Our results suggest (i) northern pike at Isle Royale are experiencing toxicity at concentrations of total mercury common for northern pike and other piscivorous fish elsewhere in North America and (ii) liver color may be useful for indicating mercury exposure and effects in northern pike at Isle Royale and possibly other aquatic ecosystems and other fish species.

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