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Establishing the Causal Relationship between Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) Exposure and Hepatic Neoplasms and Neoplasia-Related Liver Lesions in English Sole (Pleuronectes vetulus)

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For almost 25 years our laboratory has studied the impact of PAHs and related industrial contaminants on benthic fish, following an interdisciplinary approach involving chemical exposure assessment linked to synoptic detection of various effects at several levels of biological organization. These data demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between neoplastic and neoplasia-related liver lesions in English sole, and exposure to PAHs, and to a lesser degree, chlorinated hydrocarbons such as PCBs. In statistical analyses of data from multiple field studies conducted since 1978, exposure to PAHs measured in various compartments has consistently been identified as a highly significant, major risk factor for neoplasms and related lesions in this species, with PCB exposure shown to be a significant, but less consistent and less strong risk factor for these lesions. A cause-and-effect relationship between PAHs and toxicopathic liver lesions in this species is further supported by the experimental induction of toxicopathic lesions identical to those observed in field-collected fish, in sole exposed in the laboratory to model carcinogenic PAHs such as BaP or to PAH-rich extracts of sediments from Eagle Harbor, a severely PAH-contaminated site in Puget Sound. More recent field studies have identified significant associations between hepatic cytochrome P4501A (CYP1A) induction and xenobiotic-DNA adduct formation, and hepatic lesion prevalences in wild subadult English sole. Field studies in Eagle Harbor subsequent to capping of the most PAH-contaminated region of this harbor with clean dredge spoils have shown a decline in exposure to PAHs as assessed by biliary fluorescent aromatic compounds (FACs) and hepatic xenobiotic-DNA adducts. This decline in PAH exposure has been accompanied by a dramatic decline in risk of occurrence of toxicopathic hepatic lesions in English sole from Eagle Harbor. Further, laboratory studies have induced lesions in English sole by injections of extracts from PAHcontaminated sediments. Overall, these findings relating to exposure to PAHs and chlorinated hydrocarbons and the occurrence of hepatic neoplasms and neoplasiarelated lesions in English sole fulfill the classic criteria for causality in epizootiological or ecological risk assessment studies, including: (1) strength of association, (2) consistency of association, (3) specificity of association, (4) toxicological and biological plausibility, (5) temporal sequence/timing (i.e., exposure precedes disease, effect decreases when the cause is decreased or removed), (6) dose-response or biological gradient, and (7) supportive experimental evidence.
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Keywords: PAHs; PCBs; causality; epizootiology; flatfish; liver neoplasia

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Ecotoxicology Program, Environmental Conservation Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2725 Montlake Blvd. E, Seattle, WA 98112-2013

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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