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Aquat Toxicol. 2011 Oct;105(3-4 Suppl):72-7. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2011.06.002. Epub 2011 Jun 12.

Cocktail effects on biomarker responses in fish.

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  • 1University of Gothenburg, Department of Zoology, Box 463, SE-405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden.


One of today's greatest challenges in environmental toxicology is to understand effects of mixture toxicity, commonly referred to as cocktail effects, in humans and in wildlife. Biomarker responses in fish are routinely used to assess exposure of anthropogenic chemicals in the aquatic environment. However, little is known about how cocktail effects affect these biomarker responses. For this reason, there is an obvious risk for misinterpretation of biomarker-data and this can have profound negative effects on stakeholder's decisions and actions, as well as on legislations and remediation-plans initiated in order to reduce exposure to certain chemicals. Besides, chemical safety-levels are traditionally based on experiences from lab-studies with single chemicals, which is unfortunate as a chemical can be more toxic when it is mixed with other chemicals, because of the cocktail effect. This review focuses on pharmacokinetic interactions between different classes of pollutants on detoxification mechanisms and how that affects two commonly used biomarkers in the aquatic environment: (1) induction of cytochrome P450 1A (CYP1A) that is mediated via activation of the arylhydrocarbon receptor (AhR), used to assess exposure to aromatic hydrocarbons; (2) induction of vitellogenin (VTG) that is mediated via activation of the estrogen receptor (ER), used to assess exposure to estrogenic chemicals. These responses can be either directly or indirectly affected by the presence of other classes of pollutants as a result of cocktail effects. For example, chemicals that inhibit the function of key metabolic enzymes and transporter pumps that are involved in elimination of AhR- and ER agonists, can result in bioaccumulation of aromatic hydrocarbons and estrogenic chemicals resulting in increased biomarker responses. This cocktail effect can lead to overestimation of the actual exposure pressure. On the contrary, induction of expression of key metabolic enzymes and transporter activities can result in increased elimination of AhR- and ER agonists that can lead to possible underestimation of the exposure. Another type of cocktail effect is inhibiting receptor cross-talk that may cause decreased biomarker responses that can also lead to underestimation of the actual exposure. To address the possible involvement of pharmacokinetic interactions including receptor cross-talks, we need to combine analyses on receptor signaling with studies on function of key biotransformation enzymes such as major catabolic CYP enzymes (e.g. CYP1-4) as well as efflux pumps (e.g. ATP-binding cassette transporter proteins). Besides, studies of inhibition of these enzymes and pumps activities pose a great potential to be used as future biomarkers as they are more clearly liked to adverse outcomes, compared to for example induction of CYP1A and VTG expression.

2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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