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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2003 May 12;1640(2-3):105-12.

Effect of tributyltin on trout blood cells: changes in mitochondrial morphology and functionality.

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  • 1Department of Biology MCA, University of Camerino, Camerino (MC), Italy.


The aquatic environment is the largest sink for the highly toxic organotin compounds, particularly as one of the main sources is the direct release of organotins from marine antifouling paints. The aim of this study was to investigate the mitochondrial toxicity and proapoptotic activity of tributyltin chloride (TBTC) in teleost leukocytes and nucleated erythrocytes, by means of electron microscopy investigation and mitochondrial membrane potential evaluation, in order to provide an early indicator of aquatic environmental pollution. Erythrocytes and leukocytes were obtained from an inbred strain of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Transmission electronic micrographs of trout red blood cells (RBC) incubated in the presence of TBTC at 1 and 5 microM for 60 min showed remarkable mitochondrial morphological changes. TBTC-mediated toxicity involved alteration of the cristae ultrastructure and mitochondrial swelling, in a dose-dependent manner. Both erythrocytes and leukocytes displayed a consistent drop in mitochondrial membrane potential following TBTC exposure at concentrations >1 microM. The proapoptotic effect of TBTC on fish blood cells, and involvement of mitochondrial pathways was also investigated by verifying the release of cytochrome c, activation of caspase-3 and the presence of "DNA laddering". Although mitochondrial activity was much more strongly affected in erythrocytes, leukocytes incubated in the presence of TBTC showed the characteristic features of apoptosis after only 1 h of incubation. Longer exposures, up to 12 h, were required to trigger an apoptotic response in erythrocytes.

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