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Ecotoxicology. 2011 Oct;20(7):1677-83. doi: 10.1007/s10646-011-0754-6. Epub 2011 Aug 17.

Mercury, selenium and neurochemical biomarkers in different brain regions of migrating common loons from Lake Erie, Canada.

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Environment Canada, National Wildlife Research Center, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada.


Common loons (Gavia immer) can be exposed to relatively high levels of dietary methylmercury (MeHg) through fish consumption, and several studies have documented MeHg-associated health effects in this species. To further study the neurological risks of MeHg accumulation, migrating loons dying of Type E botulism were collected opportunistically from the Lake Erie shore at Long Point (Ontario, Canada) and relationships between total mercury (THg), selenium (Se), and selected neurochemical receptors and brain enzymes were investigated. THg concentrations were 1-78 μg/g in liver; and 0.3-4 μg/g in the brain (all concentrations reported on a dry weight basis). A significant (p < 0.05) positive correlation was found between THg in liver and THg in 3 subregions of the brain (cerebral cortex: r = 0.433; cerebellum: r = 0.293; brain stem: r = 0.405). THg varied significantly among different brain regions, with the cortex having the highest concentrations. Se levels in the cortex and cerebellum were 1-29 and 1-10 μg/g, respectively, with no significant differences between regions. Se was not measured in brain stem due to insufficient tissue mass. There were molar excesses of Se over mercury (Hg) in both cortex and cerebellum at all Hg concentrations, and a significant positive relationship between THg and the Hg:Se molar ratio (cortex: r = 0.63; cerebellum: r = 0.47). No significant associations were observed between brain THg and the N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptor concentration, nor between THg and muscarinic cholinergic (mACh) receptor concentration; however, brain THg levels were lower than in previous studies that reported significant Hg-associated changes in neuroreceptor densities. Together with previous studies, the current findings add to our understanding of Hg distribution in the brain of common loons, and the associations between Hg and sub-lethal neurochemical changes in fish-eating wildlife.

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