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Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2013 Feb;88:108-16. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2012.11.002. Epub 2012 Dec 2.

Risks of waterborne copper exposure to a cultivated freshwater Neotropical catfish (Rhamdia quelen).

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Departamento de Farmacologia, Universidade Federal do Paraná, Curitiba, PR, Brazil.


As it is the case in all animal food production systems, it is often necessary to treat farmed fish for diseases and parasites. Quite frequently, fish farmers still rely on the aggressive use of copper to control bacterial infections and infestations by ecto-parasites, and to manage the spread of diseases. The susceptibility of the neotropical fish Rhamdia quelen to copper was here evaluated at different waterborne copper concentrations (2, 7 or 11 μg Cu L(-1)) for 96 h, through a multi biomarkers approach. Liver histopathological findings revealed leukocyte infiltration, hepatocyte vacuolization and areas of necrosis, causing raised levels of lesions upon exposure to 7 and 11 μg Cu L(-1). Decreased occurrence of free melano-macrophages and increased densities of melano-macrophage centers were noted upon exposure to 11 μg Cu L(-1). Gills showed damages on their secondary lamellae already at 2 μg Cu L(-1); hypertrophy and loss of the microridges of pavement cells at 7 and 11 μg L(-1), and increased in chloride cell (CC) apical surface area (4.9-fold) and in CC density (1.5-fold) at 11 μg Cu L(-1). In the liver, catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase activities (GPx) and glutathione concentration (GSH) remained unchanged, compared to the control group. However, there was inhibition of 7-ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) at all copper concentrations tested. Glutathione reductase activity (GR) was reduced and levels of lipid peroxidation (LPO) were increased at 11 μg Cu L(-1). Glutathione S-transferase activity (GST) at 7 μg Cu L(-1) and superoxide dismutase activity (SOD) at both 7 and 11 μg Cu L(-1) were reduced. However, copper exposure did not alter brain and muscle acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity. Osmoregulatory function was also disturbed, in agreement with the above-mentioned changes noted in the gills, as detected by plasma osmolality reduction in the group exposed to 11 μg Cu L(-1), and plasma chloride reduction at 2 μg Cu L(-1). These concentrations also, coherently, lead to inhibition of branchial carbonic anhydrase activity. In the kidney, increased carbonic anhydrase activity was measured in the groups exposed to 2 and 7 μg Cu L(-1). When these effects are compared to data available in the literature for other freshwater fish, also for 96 h of exposure, R. quelen appears as a relatively sensitive species. In addition, the concentrations employed here were quite low in comparison to levels used for disease control in real culture practices (ranging from 4 μg Cu L(-1) used against bacteria to 6000 μg Cu L(-1) against fungal infections). We can conclude that the concentrations frequently employed in aquaculture are in fact not safe enough for this species. Such data are essential for the questioning and establishment of new policies to the sector.

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