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Nat Toxins. 1999;7(3):85-92.

Detection of domoic acid in northern anchovies and California sea lions associated with an unusual mortality event.

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Biology Department, University of California at Santa Cruz, USA.


The occurrence of an unusual mortality event involving California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) along the central California coast in May 1998 was recently reported. The potent neurotoxin domoic acid (DA), produced naturally by the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia australis and transmitted to the sea lions via planktivorous northern anchovies (Engraulis mordax), was identified as the probable causative agent. Details of DA analyses for anchovy tissues and sea lion feces are described. Domoic acid levels were estimated in anchovy samples by HPLC-UV, and in sea lion feces using the same method as well as a microplate receptor binding assay, with absolute confirmation by tandem mass spectrometry. The highest DA concentrations in anchovies occurred in the viscera (223 +/- 5 microg DA g(-1)), exceeding values in the body tissues by seven-fold and suggesting minimal bioaccumulation of DA in anchovy tissue. HPLC values for DA in sea lion fecal material (ranging from 152 to 136.5 microg DA g(-1)) required correction for interference from an unidentified compound. Inter-laboratory comparisons of HPLC data showed close quantitative agreement. Fecal DA activity determined using the receptor binding assay corresponded with HPLC values to within a factor of two. Finally, our detection of P. australis frustules, via scanning electron microscopy, in both anchovy viscera and fecal material from sea lions exhibiting seizures provides corroborating evidence that this toxic algal species was involved in this unusual sea lion mortality event.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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