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J Toxicol Environ Health. 1993 Sep;40(1):47-59.

Porphyrin profiles in the nestling European starling (Sturnus vulgaris): a potential biomarker of field contaminant exposure.

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Institute of Wildlife and Environmental Toxicology, Clemson University, Pendleton, South Carolina.


Porphyrin patterns in avian and mammalian tissues and/or excreta have been proposed as qualitative and quantitative biomarkers of exposure to polyhalogenated hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and other environmental contaminants. However, no widely distributed terrestrial species has been characterized as a suitable model in which to assess porphyrin profiles in the evaluation of environmental contaminant exposure. The European starling, whose nests can be readily established and manipulated on contaminated sites, has many qualities that accommodate controlled field research and that suggest its suitability for such assessments. In the present studies, we measured the total and individual porphyrin concentrations in liver, kidney, and fecal-urate excreta of nestling starlings from a noncontaminated field site from day of hatch through d 17 of the nestling period. Total as well as individual 8-, 7-, 6-, 5-, 4-, and 2-carboxyl porphyrin concentrations in liver, kidney, and fecal-urate excreta were readily detectable by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) spectrofluorometric techniques and displayed tissue-specific patterns throughout the developmental period. Liver and fecal-urate porphyrin patterns were established by d 4 subsequent to hatch and remained constant through d 17 of development, whereas renal porphyrin profiles were constant throughout the entire developmental period. In controlled field studies, nestling starlings were treated with either HgCl2 or hexachlorobenzene (HCB), and tissue and excreta porphyrins were extracted and evaluated. The findings suggest that the nestling starling may serve as a suitable model species in which to monitor the effects of field contaminant exposure to wildlife based on chemical-induced changes in tissue or excreta porphyrin levels.

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