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Cytochrome P450 1A transcript is a suitable biomarker of both exposure and response to diluted bitumen in developing frog embryos

Lara-Jacobo, Linda R., Willard, Brianna, Wallace, Sarah J., Langlois, Valerie S.
Environmental pollution 2019 v.246 pp. 501-508
Xenopus tropicalis, abnormal development, aromatic compounds, biomarkers, bitumen, condensates, cytochrome P-450, embryo (animal), embryonic mortality, endocrine system, frogs, gene expression, genes, larvae, mechanism of action, messenger RNA, phenotype, pipelines, polycyclic compounds, toxicity, wildlife, Alberta
In order for Alberta's thick bitumen to be transported through pipelines, condensates are added creating a diluted bitumen (dilbit) mixture. Recent pipeline expansion projects have generated concern about potential dilbit spills on aquatic wildlife health. Studies have suggested that polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs) are toxic to aquatic vertebrates and could potentially also interfere with their endocrine system. The research objectives of this study were to investigate the toxicity of dilbit to developing frog embryos and to identify the molecular mechanisms of action involved. Fertilized embryos of Western clawed frog (Silurana tropicalis) were exposed for 72 h to water accommodated fractions (WAF; 0.7–8.9 μg/L TPACs) and chemically-enhanced WAFs (CEWAF; 0.09–56.7 μg/L TPACs) of Access Western Blend (AWB) and Cold Lake Blend (CLB) dilbits. Both dilbit's CEWAFs significantly increased embryonic mortality and malformation incidence in the highest treatments tested, while WAF treatments led to no visible toxic effects. Increases of the cytochrome P450 1A (cyp1a) mRNA levels were observed for all WAF and CEWAF dilbit treatments suggesting that phase I detoxification is activated in the dilbit-exposed larvae. When exposed to PAC concentrations ranging from 0.09 to 8.9 μg/L, the frogs displayed no observable malformations, but expressed significant increases of cyp1a mRNA levels (2- to 25-fold; indicating a suitable biomarker of exposure); however, when concentrations were of 46.6 μg/L or higher, both malformed frog phenotype and induction of cyp1a mRNA level (>250-fold) were measured (indicating a suitable biomarker of response). The expression of several genes related to cellular detoxification and endocrine disruption were also measured, but were not significantly altered by the treatments. In sum, cyp1a mRNA level is a highly sensitive endpoint to measure subtle molecular changes induced by PAC exposure in the frog embryos and larvae, and data suggest that PAC concentration higher than 46 μg/L would be toxic to the developing S. tropicalis.