In order to test whether histopathological changes of gills demonstrated a good dose–response relationship with water copper levels, juvenile Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus, of both sexes and similar mass (36·3 + 7·7 g), were kept in dechlorinated tap water (temperature 25° C, range ±1° C; pH 6·5–7·5; hardness 74·5 mg l−1 CaCO3) and exposed to 40 and 400 g l−1 of copper. Gill samples were collected after 3, 7, 14 and 21 days. Six major histopathological changes (oedema, lifting, changes in filament epithelium thickness, lamellar fusion, vasodilatation and aneurisms) and three minor ones (proliferation of the lamellar epithelium, necrosis and adjacent lamellar fusion) were found and their prevalence estimated. The extent and severity of each histopathological change were used to develop a severity gradation scale (SGS). Semi-quantitative analysis of the histopathological changes and measurements of gill copper deposition levels revealed a good dose– and time–response relationship. Oedemas and aneurisms were significantly correlated with acute exposure periods and lamellar fusion with chronic exposure. Epithelial lifting and changes in filament epithelial thickness were seen at lower and higher metal concentrations, respectively. The data also revealed that the SGS profile of each lesion was dependent of gill copper burden.
Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, Vila Rea – Center for the Research and Technology of Agro-Environment and Biological Sciences (CITAB) Apartado 1013, 5000-911 Vila Real, Portugal 2:
Centre of Marine and Environmental Research (CIMAR); Laboratory of Histology and Embryology