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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Apr 26;108(17):7086-90. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1019031108. Epub 2011 Apr 11.

Sublethal exposure to crude oil during embryonic development alters cardiac morphology and reduces aerobic capacity in adult fish.

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  • 1University of Alaska-Fairbanks Fisheries Division, University of Alaska-Fairbanks Juneau Center, Juneau, AK 99801, USA.


Exposure to high concentrations of crude oil produces a lethal syndrome of heart failure in fish embryos. Mortality is caused by cardiotoxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), ubiquitous components of petroleum. Here, we show that transient embryonic exposure to very low concentrations of oil causes toxicity that is sublethal, delayed, and not counteracted by the protective effects of cytochrome P450 induction. Nearly a year after embryonic oil exposure, adult zebrafish showed subtle changes in heart shape and a significant reduction in swimming performance, indicative of reduced cardiac output. These delayed physiological impacts on cardiovascular performance at later life stages provide a potential mechanism linking reduced individual survival to population-level ecosystem responses of fish species to chronic, low-level oil pollution.

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