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Aquat Toxicol. 2010 Jan 21;96(1):2-26. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2009.09.019. Epub 2009 Oct 30.

Olfactory toxicity in fishes.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada.


Olfaction conveys critical environmental information to fishes, enabling activities such as mating, locating food, discriminating kin, avoiding predators and homing. All of these behaviors can be impaired or lost as a result of exposure to toxic contaminants in surface waters. Historically, teleost olfaction studies have focused on behavioral responses to anthropogenic contaminants (e.g., avoidance). More recently, there has been a shift towards understanding the underlying mechanisms and functional significance of contaminant-mediated changes in fish olfaction. This includes a consideration of how contaminants affect the olfactory nervous system and, by extension, the downstream physiological and behavioral processes that together comprise a normal response to naturally occurring stimuli (e.g., reproductive priming or releasing pheromones). Numerous studies spanning several species have shown that ecologically relevant exposures to common pollutants such as metals and pesticides can interfere with fish olfaction and disrupt life history processes that determine individual survival and reproductive success. This represents one of the pathways by which toxic chemicals in aquatic habitats may increasingly contribute to the decline and at-risk status of many commercially and ecologically important fish stocks. Despite our emerging understanding of the threats that pollution poses for chemical communication in aquatic communities, many research challenges remain. These include: (1) the determination of specific mechanisms of toxicity in the fish olfactory sensory epithelium; (2) an understanding of the impacts of complex chemical mixtures; (3) the capacity to assess olfactory toxicity in fish in situ; (4) the impacts of toxins on olfactory-mediated behaviors that are still poorly understood for many fish species; and (5) the connections between sublethal effects on individual fish and the long-term viability of wild populations. This review summarizes and integrates studies on fish olfaction-contaminant interactions, including metrics ranging from the molecular to the behavioral, and highlights directions for future research.

2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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