Metabolic Costs of Exposure to Wastewater Effluent Lead to Compensatory Adjustments in Respiratory Physiology in Bluegill Sunfish
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Municipal wastewater effluent is a major source of aquatic pollution and has potential to impact cellular energy metabolism. However, it is poorly understood whether wastewater exposure impacts whole-animal metabolism and whether this can be accommodated with adjustments in respiratory physiology. We caged bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) for 21 days at two sites downstream (either 50 or 830 m) from a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Survival was reduced in fish caged at both downstream sites compared to an uncontaminated reference site. Standard rates of O2 consumption increased in fish at contaminated sites, reflecting a metabolic cost of wastewater exposure. Several physiological adjustments accompanied this metabolic cost, including an expansion of the gill surface area available for gas exchange (reduced interlamellar cell mass), a decreased blood-O2 affinity (which likely facilitates O2 unloading at respiring tissues), increased respiratory capacities for oxidative phosphorylation in isolated liver mitochondria (supported by increased succinate dehydrogenase, but not citrate synthase, activity), and decreased mitochondrial emission of reactive oxygen species (ROS). We conclude that exposure to wastewater effluent invokes a metabolic cost that leads to compensatory respiratory improvements in O2 uptake, delivery, and utilization.
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