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Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Dec 1;45(23):10194-202. doi: 10.1021/es201541j. Epub 2011 Nov 2.

PCB-associated changes in mRNA expression in killer whales (Orcinus orca) from the NE Pacific Ocean.

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Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, P.O. Box 6000, 9860 West Saanich Road, Sidney, British Columbia V8L 4B2, Canada.


Killer whales in the NE Pacific Ocean are among the world's most PCB-contaminated marine mammals, raising concerns about implications for their health. Sixteen health-related killer whale mRNA transcripts were analyzed in blubber biopsies collected from 35 free-ranging killer whales in British Columbia using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction. We observed PCB-related increases in the expression of five gene targets, including the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR; r(2) = 0.83; p < 0.001), thyroid hormone α receptor (TRα; r(2) = 0.64; p < 0.001), estrogen α receptor (ERα; r(2) = 0.70; p < 0.001), interleukin 10 (IL-10; r(2) = 0.74 and 0.68, males and females, respectively; p < 0.001), and metallothionein 1 (MT1; r(2) = 0.58; p < 0.001). Best-fit models indicated that population (dietary preference), age, and sex were not confounding factors, except for IL-10, where males differed from females. While the population-level consequences are unclear, the PCB-associated alterations in mRNA abundance of such pivotal end points provide compelling evidence of adverse physiological effects of persistent environmental contaminants in these endangered killer whales.

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