The endocrine disrupting effect of municipal effluent on the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha)

Brian Quinn, Francois Gagne, Mark Costello, Craig McKenzie, James Wilson, Carmel Mothersill

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105 Citations (Scopus)


Municipal effluents have been shown to contain a cocktail of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The estrogenic effect of these effluents has been demonstrated on both vertebrate and invertebrate species by the feminisation of the exposed males. This effect was investigated on the freshwater zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) after exposure to tertiary treated effluent from a municipal sewage treatment works (STW). Mussels were exposed to the effluent in situ for 112 days during gametogenesis (December to mid-March). Levels of vitellin (Vn)-like proteins (the major protein found in oocytes) were measured indirectly using the alkali-labile phosphate (ALP) technique and confirmed by gel electrophoresis. Significant increases (P<0.05) in Vn-like proteins were found in both male and female mussels after exposure to the effluent, indicating that endocrine disruption (ED) had occurred. Using High-performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC) levels of the mussels main steroid, cholesterol were found to more than double after effluent exposure. General physiological (survival, condition, etc.) and histological effects were also investigated. Histological effects observed included a large increase in interstitial tissue between the seminiferous tubules of the gonad in male mussels exposed to effluent. Effluent samples were tested for estrogenic compounds using the toxicity identification and evaluation method (TIE). A complex mixture of compounds with estrogenic activity was found with 17β-estradiol, 17α-ethynlestradiol and bisphenol A accounting for the majority of the effluents estrogenic activity. Results indicate that the zebra mussel is a suitable bioindicator of endocrine disruption in freshwater environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-292
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2004
Externally publishedYes


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