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Advances in understanding the mechanisms of mercury toxicity in wild golden grey mullet (Liza aurata) by 1H NMR-based metabolomics

Cappello, Tiziana, Pereira, Patrícia, Maisano, Maria, Mauceri, Angela, Pacheco, Mário, Fasulo, Salvatore
Environmental pollution 2016 v.219 pp. 139-148
Liza aurata, alanine, anaerobiosis, antioxidant activity, bioaccumulation, biomarkers, carbohydrates, chemometrics, creatine, environmental factors, estuaries, excretion, gills, glutathione, health status, hypoxia, lactic acid, liver, mercury, metabolites, metabolome, metabolomics, methylmercury compounds, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, nucleotides, protein metabolism, risk, taurine, toxicity, trophic levels, wild fish, Portugal
Mercury (Hg) is recognized as a dangerous contaminant due to its bioaccumulation and biomagnification within trophic levels, leading to serious health risks to aquatic biota. Therefore, there is an urgent need to unravel the mechanisms underlying the toxicity of Hg. To this aim, a metabolomics approach based on protonic nuclear magnetic resonance (1H NMR), coupled with chemometrics, was performed on the gills of wild golden grey mullets L. aurata living in an Hg-polluted area in Ria de Aveiro (Portugal). Gills were selected as target organ due to their direct and continuous interaction with the surrounding environment. As a consequence of accumulated inorganic Hg and methylmercury, severe changes in the gill metabolome were observed, indicating a compromised health status of mullets. Numerous metabolites, i.e. amino acids, osmolytes, carbohydrates, and nucleotides, were identified as potential biomarkers of Hg toxicity in fish gills. Specifically, decrease of taurine and glycerophosphocholine, along with increased creatine level, suggested Hg interference with the ion-osmoregulatory processes. The rise of lactate indicated anaerobic metabolism enhancement. Moreover, the increased levels of amino acids suggested the occurrence of protein catabolism, further supported by the augmented alanine, involved in nitrogenous waste excretion. Increased level of isobutyrate, a marker of anoxia, was suggestive of onset of hypoxic stress at the Hg contaminated site. Moreover, the concomitant reduction in glycerophosphocholine and phosphocholine reflected the occurrence of membrane repair processes. Finally, perturbation in antioxidant defence system was revealed by the depletion in glutathione and its constituent amino acids. All these data were also compared to the differential Hg-induced metabolic responses previously observed in liver of the same mullets (Brandão et al., 2015). Overall, the environmental metabolomics approach demonstrated its effectiveness in the evaluation of Hg toxicity mechanisms in wild fish under realistic environmental conditions, uncovering tissue-specificities regarding Hg toxic effects namely in gills and liver.