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Chemosphere. 2011 Apr;83(4):552-63. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2010.12.019. Epub 2010 Dec 30.

Transcriptional responses in juvenile Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) after exposure to mercury-contaminated sediments obtained near the wreck of the German WW2 submarine U-864, and from Bergen Harbor, Western Norway.

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  • 1National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, Nordnesboder 1-2, N-5005 Bergen, Norway.


The main aim of the present work was to investigate the effects of mercury (Hg)-enriched sediments on fish. Sediments near the sunken German WW2 submarine U-864, which according to historical documents included 67 tons of metallic Hg in its cargo, are enriched of Hg leaking from the wreckage. Juvenile Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) were exposed to two field-collected polluted sediments (U-864: inorganic Hg and Bergen Harbor (Vågen): inorganic Hg, PCB and PAH) or two comparable reference sediments for 5 weeks in the laboratory, and transcriptional responses evaluated in gills and liver. Gills of fish exposed to the Hg-enriched sunken WW2 submarine U-864 sediment contained four fold higher Hg levels compared to the control fish. An increase in Hg content in liver in the U-864 fish was also observed. The transcriptional results showed that calreticulin, HSP70 and heme oxygenase mRNA were significantly up-regulated in gills in fish exposed to the Hg-enriched sediments, whereas calreticulin, heme oxygenase, transferrin and WAP65 were significantly up-regulated and glutathione peroxidase 4B and zona pellucida 3 were significantly down-regulated in liver tissue. In gills and liver of cod exposed to the mixed-contaminated Vågen sediment, CYP1A showed the highest induction. In conclusion, the experiment shows that sediment-bound Hg is available to the fish and affects the transcription of oxidative stress responsive enzymes, suggesting that the Hg-enriched sediments may negatively affect the local wildlife. Furthermore, the mixed contaminated sediments of Vågen affected similar responses in addition to Ah-receptor mediated responses reflecting exposure to PAHs and PCBs.

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