Elevated Ovarian Follicular Apoptosis and Heat Shock Protein-70 Expression in White Sucker Exposed to Bleached Kraft Pulp Mill Effluent
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Exposure of feral fish populations to bleached kraft pulp mill effluent (BKME) results in a variety of negative impacts on reproductive fitness including reduced ovarian development, reduced egg size, decreased fecundity with age, delayed sexual maturation, and alterations in reproductive endocrine homeostasis at multiple sites along the pituitary-gonadal axis. The present study provides evidence of elevated apoptotic DNA fragmentation and increased expression of the 70-kDa heat shock protein (HSP70) in ovarian follicular cells from prespawning white sucker (Catostomus commersoni) exposed to BKME. Apoptosis is the molecular mechanism responsible for ovarian follicular atresia which is involved in various stages of vertebrate ovarian development such as follicular recruitment, growth, differentiation, and regression. In mammals, induction of HSP70 is associated with inhibition of hormone-sensitive steroidogenesis and mediation of luteal regression. The 3'-end labeling of isolated ovarian follicular cell DNA revealed a 10-fold increase in the extent of apoptosis in BKME-exposed white sucker in comparison to follicles collected from a nearby reference site. Western blotting for ovarian follicular HSP70 levels showed increased expression of this protein in fish exposed to BKME. The elevated ovarian cell apoptosis and increased HSP70 expression in BKME-exposed fish were associated with reduced ovary size, decreased plasma testosterone, and increased plasma 17 beta-estradiol concentrations, but not induction of hepatic ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase activity. It is not known whether increased ovarian HSP70 expression in BKME-exposed fish is related to elevated apoptosis or represents a general response to environmental stress. Since apoptosis is regulated by several hormonal factors and conserved gene products, these data suggest that certain components of BKME increase ovarian cell apoptosis in fish via stimulation of cell death signaling. However, it is unclear whether BKME stimulates ovarian cell apoptosis directly or if this response occurs secondarily as a result of altered reproductive endocrine homeostasis.
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