Marine Biology

, Volume 147, Issue 6, pp 1393–1402 | Cite as

Dissolved saxitoxin causes transient inhibition of sensorimotor function in larval Pacific herring (Clupea harengus pallasi)

  • Kathi A. LefebvreEmail author
  • Nancy E. Elder
  • Paul K. Hershberger
  • Vera L. Trainer
  • Carla M. Stehr
  • Nathaniel L. Scholz
Research Article


Herring (Clupea harengus pallasi) spawning sites in Puget Sound, Washington overlap spatially and temporally with blooms of Alexandrium catenella, a toxic dinoflagellate species responsible for paralytic shellfish poisoning. Consequently, newly hatched herring larvae may be regularly exposed to the suite of dissolved paralytic shellfish toxins that are released into the water column from toxic cells during blooms. To date, virtually nothing is known about the impacts of these neurotoxins on early developmental stages of marine fish. In the present study, herring larvae at three ages, 0 days post hatch (dph), 4 dph, and 11 dph, were exposed to dissolved saxitoxin (STX) in 24-h and multi-day exposures. All larvae were examined for sensorimotor function (i.e. spontaneous swimming behavior and touch response). Significant reductions in spontaneous and touch-activated swimming behavior occurred within 1 h of exposure. EC50s at 1 h of exposure were 1,500, 840, and 700 μg STX equiv. l−1 for larvae introduced to STX at 0, 4, and 11 dph, respectively. This progressive age-specific increase in STX-induced paralysis suggests that older larvae were more sensitive to the toxin than younger larvae. Interestingly, herring larvae at all ages exhibited a significant degree of neurobehavioral recovery within 4–24 h of continuous exposure relative to the 1-h time point. This recovery of normal motor behaviors was not observed in previous studies with freshwater zebrafish (Danio rerio) larvae under the same continuous exposure conditions, suggesting that an adaptive detoxification or toxin sequestration mechanism may have evolved in some species of marine fish larvae. Our data reveal that (1) dissolved STX is bioavailable to marine finfish larvae, (2) the toxin is a paralytic agent with potencies that differ between developmental stages, and (3) STX-induced sensorimotor inhibition occurs rapidly but is transient in marine larvae. Collectively, these results suggest that dissolved algal toxins may have important sublethal effects on marine fish populations.


Harmful Algal Bloom Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Control Larva Zebrafish Larva Sensorimotor Function 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank Keri Baugh and Jeannie Bush (Marine Biotoxin Program), Jim West, and Jana Labenia and Jamie Coleman (Ecotoxicology and Environmental Fish Health Program) for aid in toxin analysis and editing of this manuscript. This research was supported by an ECOHAB grant (ECO-02-479). This paper is ECOHAB contribution#133.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathi A. Lefebvre
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nancy E. Elder
    • 2
  • Paul K. Hershberger
    • 2
  • Vera L. Trainer
    • 1
  • Carla M. Stehr
    • 1
  • Nathaniel L. Scholz
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental Conservation Division, Northwest Fisheries Science CenterNOAA-FisheriesSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Marrowstone Marine StationUSGS, Biological Resources DisciplineNordlandUSA

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