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Detecting fluoxetine and norfluoxetine in wild bird tissues and feathers

Sophia E. Whitlock, M. Glória Pereira, Julie Lane, Darren Sleep, Richard F. Shore, Kathryn E. Arnold
Environment international 2019 v.126 pp. 193-201
Sturnus vulgaris, body weight, brain, captive animals, drugs, feathers, humans, kidneys, liver, lungs, risk, tail, tissues, wild birds, wildlife
The contamination of the environment with human pharmaceuticals is widespread and demand for such products is mounting globally. Wild vertebrates may be at particular risk from any effects from pharmaceuticals, because of the evolutionary conservation of drug targets. However, exposure of wildlife to pharmaceuticals is poorly characterised, partly due to challenges associated with detecting rapidly metabolised compounds. As part of a wider study on the behavioural effects of fluoxetine (Prozac) on Eurasian starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), we investigated which avian samples are best suited for detecting exposure to fluoxetine in free-living birds. We analysed plasma, various tissues and tail feathers (grown both in the wild and in captivity during the dosing period) from fluoxetine-treated birds (dosed daily with 0.035 mg kg⁻¹ bodyweight for 28 weeks), and liver tissue and tail feathers from sham-dosed birds. We detected fluoxetine in only two of twelve plasma samples from dosed birds. In dosed birds, median concentrations of free fluoxetine/norfluoxetine in tissues (two hour post-final dose) were: 111.2/67.6 ng g⁻¹ in liver, 29.6/5.7 ng g⁻¹ in kidney, 14.2/4.0 ng g⁻¹ in lung, 15.1/1.6 ng g⁻¹ in brain. We estimated that fluoxetine would remain detectable in liver and kidney approximately 4.5 times longer (90 h) than in brain (20h). In dosed birds, fluoxetine was detected in feathers regrown during the dosing period (median concentration = 11.4 ng g⁻¹) at concentrations significantly higher than in regrown feathers from control birds. Fluoxetine residues were detected in wild-grown feathers (grown before the birds were brought into captivity) at concentrations up to 27.0 ng g⁻¹, providing some evidence of likely exposure in the wild. Our results show liver and kidney can be used for detecting fluoxetine in avian carcasses and provide a first indication that feathers may be useful for assessing exposure to fluoxetine, and possibly other pharmaceuticals.