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A new challenge--development of test systems for the infochemical effect

Klaschka, Ursula
Environmental science and pollution research international 2009 v.16 no.4 pp. 370-388
aquatic organisms, chemical ecology, communications technology, community structure, ecosystems, ecotoxicology, electroantennography, immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization, laboratory experimentation, molecular biology, neurophysiology, odor compounds, olfactometers, olfactory receptors, population dynamics, quantitative analysis, receptors, reproduction, signal transduction, turbidity
Background, aim, and scope Many--if not all--organisms depend on so-called infochemicals, chemical substances in their surroundings which inform the receivers about their biotic and abiotic environment and which allow them to react adequately to these signals. Anthropogenic substances can interfere with this complex chemical communication system. This finding is called infochemical effect. So far, it is not known to what extent anthropogenic discharges act as infochemicals and influence life and reproduction of organisms in the environment because adequate testing methods to identify chemicals which show the infochemical effect and to quantify their effects have not been developed yet. The purpose of this article is to help and find suitable test designs. Main features Test systems used in basic research to elucidate the olfactory cascade and the communication of environmental organisms by infochemicals are plentiful. Some of them might be the basis for a quantified ecotoxicological analysis of the infochemical effect. In principle, test systems for the infochemical effect could be developed at each step of the chemosensory signal transduction and processing cascade. Results Experimental set-ups were compiled systematically under the aspect whether they might be usable for testing the infochemical effect of single chemicals in standardized quantifying laboratory experiments. For an appropriate ecotoxicological assessment of the infochemical effect, experimental studies of many disciplines, such as molecular biology, neurobiology, physiology, chemical ecology, and population dynamics, should be evaluated in detail before a decision can be made which test system, respectively which test battery, might be suited best. The test systems presented here are based on the knowledge of the genetic sequences for olfactory receptors, binding studies of odorants, signal transmission, and reactions of the receivers on the level of the organisms or the populations. The following basic approaches are conceivable to identify the role of an infochemical: binding studies to the odorant-binding protein or to the odorant receptor binding protein (e.g., by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemical studies), measurement of electrical signals of the receptor cells in the tissue (e.g., electroolfactograms, electroantennograms), registration of phenotypic changes (e.g., observation under the microscope), behavioral tests (e.g., in situ online biomonitoring, use of T-shaped olfactometers, tests of avoidance responses), measurement of population changes (e.g., cell density or turbidity measurements), and multispecies tests with observation of community structure and community function. The main focus of this study is on aquatic organisms. Discussion It is evident that the infochemical effect is a very complex sublethal endpoint, and it needs further studies with standardized quantitative methods to elucidate whether and to what extent the ecosystem is affected. The collection of approaches presented here is far from being complete but should serve as a point of depart for further experimental research. Conclusions This article is the first to compare various approaches for testing the infochemical effect. The development of a suitable test system will not be easy as there are a multitude of relevant chemicals, a multitude of relevant receptors, and a multitude of relevant reactions, and it must be expected that the effective concentrations are very low. The chemical communication is of utmost importance for the ecosystem and justifies great endeavors to find solutions to these technical problems. Recommendations and perspectives The infochemical effect is a new chapter in ecotoxicology. Will a new endpoint, the so-called infochemical effect, be required in addition to the actual standard test battery of Annex 5 to Commission Directive 92/69/EEC (EC 1992)? Finding the answer to this question is a big challenge that could be met by a comprehensive research project.