US Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Aquatic Toxicology 118– 119 (2012) 27– 36; doi:10.1016/j.aquatox.2012.02.023


The trophic transfer of sediment-associated pollutants is a growing concern in shellfish harvesting areas. Previous studies have examined the role of phytoplankton in the transport of organic contaminants to bivalve species, but little information on microphytobenthic communities and their role as contaminant vectors exists. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic compounds formed during natural and industrial processes; they are termed “persistent organic pollutants” because they are only slowly degraded by natural processes. This study examined the transfer of PAH compounds (naphthalene, pyrene, and benzo(a)pyrene) by a microphytobenthic diatom to the eastern oyster, a commercially important shellfish species, to determine if dietary accumulation is a route of contaminant exposure capable of inducing physiological responses. PAH compounds were adsorbed to a diatom culture (Nitzschia brevirostris) in a range of concentrations (5, 125, 625, and 1000 Mg L−1), and eastern oysters were exposed experimentally to the contaminated diatom cultures to assess possible effects upon oyster hemocytes and selected immune-defense functions. A preliminary experiment was designed to identify individual effects of several PAH compounds (naphthalene, pyrene, and benzo(a)pyrene) on hemocyte viability and phagocytic activity. Results from this experiment revealed that the most-toxic compound, benzo(a)pyrene, at the highest concentration, stimulated an increase in agranular hemocyte counts. A follow-up study examined the effects of benzo(a)pyrene on hemocyte viability, adhesion, phagocytosis, and reactive oxygen species (ROS). These studies showed the ability of this benthic diatom to transport PAHs to the eastern oyster and to cause immunomodulation. Hemocyte responses to dietary PAH exposure included an increase in circulating hemocytes and increased production of reactive oxygen species by these cells.