Impaired reproductive health of killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) inhabiting Newark Bay, NJ, a chronically contaminated estuary

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A battery of biomarkers were used to evaluate the reproductive health and contaminant exposure of Atlantic killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) inhabiting the heavily industrialized Newark Bay and a reference population from Great Bay, Tuckerton, NJ. The biomarkers investigated included classical endpoints (gonad and liver histopathology, body and tissue morphometrics), hepatic mRNA expression (CYP1A and vitellogenin I), hepatic protein levels (CYP1A and vitellogenin), gonadal aromatase mRNA expression, and chemical exposure analyses (bile PAHs). Our data showed no significant differences between populations for body size and body weight. However, Newark Bay killifish exhibited molecular and morphological changes indicative of impaired reproductive health and endocrine disruption compared to the reference population. Newark Bay males had decreased gonad weight, altered testis development and decreased gonadal aromatase mRNA expression. Newark Bay females had decreased gonad weight, inhibited gonadal development, decreased hepatic vitellogenin production (mRNA and protein) and increased mRNA expression of gonadal aromatase. In addition, Newark Bay females had a significant increase in the percent of pre-vitellogenic follicles (43% at Tuckerton, 64% at Newark Bay) and a significantly decreased percent of follicles at the mid-vitellogenic and mature stages (25% mature at Tuckerton and 3% at Newark Bay). In addition to reproductive endpoints, killifish at Newark Bay exhibited high basal levels of CYP1A mRNA and protein expression which indicated exposure to aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) agonists. An inverse relationship between hepatic CYP1A protein and hepatic vitellogenin mRNA expression was established suggesting a possible link between AhR agonist exposure and vitellogenesis. Killifish in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary are exposed to a number of chemicals that can interact with the AhR pathway and stimulate enzymatic activity along with chemicals that can modify reproductive success in this indigenous species. Similar effects on the reproductive development in less resilient species may limit their ability to repopulate the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary and similarly contaminated water systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-193
Number of pages12
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 18 2010


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aquatic Science
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


  • Biomarkers
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Fish reproduction
  • Killifish
  • NY-NJ Harbor Estuary

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