Fish Physiology and Biochemistry

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 1361–1371 | Cite as

Evaluation of the use of metallothionein as a biomarker for detecting physiological responses to mercury exposure in the bonnethead, Sphyrna tiburo

  • Christina J. Walker
  • James Gelsleichter
  • Douglas H. Adams
  • Charles A. Manire


Previous studies have demonstrated that sharks, perhaps more so than any other fishes, are capable of bioaccumulating the non-essential toxic metal mercury (Hg) to levels that threaten the health of human seafood consumers. However, few studies have explored the potential effects of Hg accumulation in sharks themselves. Therefore, the goal of this study was to examine if physiological effects occur in sharks in response to environmentally relevant levels of Hg exposure. To address this goal, the relationship between muscle Hg concentrations and muscle/hepatic levels of metallothionein (MT), a widely used protein biomarker of toxic metal exposure in fish, was examined in bonnetheads, Sphyrna tiburo, from three Florida estuaries. Total Hg concentrations in bonnethead muscle, as determined using thermal decomposition and atomic absorption spectrometry, ranged from 0.22 to 1.78 μg/g wet weight and were correlated with animal size. These observations were consistent with earlier studies on Florida bonnetheads, illustrating that they experience bioaccumulation of Hg, often to levels that threaten the health of these animals or consumers of their meat. However, despite this, MT concentrations measured using Western blot analysis were not correlated with muscle Hg concentrations. These results suggest that either environmentally relevant levels of Hg exposure and uptake are below the physiological threshold for inducing effects in sharks or MT is a poor biomarker of Hg exposure in these fishes. Of these two explanations, the latter is favored based on a growing body of evidence that questions the use of MTs as specific indicators of Hg exposure and effects in fish.


Metallothionein Biomarker Mercury Sharks Sphyrna tiburo 



The authors acknowledge J. Tyminski and additional staff and student interns from Mote Marine Laboratory for their roles in sample collection, which was made possible by Environmental Protection Agency Grant No. R826128-01-0 to C.A. Manire. Although the research described in this article has been funded in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, it has not been subjected to the Agency’s required peer and policy review and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred. W. Habich and D. Tremain from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are acknowledged for their roles in mercury analysis. Additional portions of this research were supported by the University of North Florida.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christina J. Walker
    • 1
  • James Gelsleichter
    • 1
  • Douglas H. Adams
    • 2
  • Charles A. Manire
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of North FloridaJacksonvilleUSA
  2. 2.Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation CommissionFish and Wildlife Research InstituteMelbourneUSA
  3. 3.Mote Marine LaboratorySarasotaUSA
  4. 4.Loggerhead Marinelife CenterJuno BeachUSA

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