Effluents from pulp and paper mills that historically have used elemental chlorine in the bleaching process have been implicated in inhibiting reproduction in fish. Compounds with estrogenic and androgenic binding affinities have been found in these effluents, suggesting that the impairment of reproduction is through an endocrine-related mode of action. To date, a great deal of attention has been paid to phytoestrogens and resin acids that are present in mill process streams as a result of pulping trees. Estrogen and estrogen mimics interact directly with the estrogen receptor and have near immediate effects on gene transcription by turning on the expression of a unique set of genes. Using differential display (DD) RT-PCR, we examined changes in gene expression induced by exposure to paper mill effluents. Largemouth bass were exposed to 0, 10, 20, 40, and 80% paper mill effluent concentrations in large flow-through tanks for varied periods of time including 7, 28 or 56 days. Plasma hormone levels in males and females and plasma vitellogenin (Vtg) in females decreased with dose and time. Measurements of changes in gene expression using DD RT-PCR suggest that the gene expression patterns of male fish do not change much with exposure, except for the induction of a few genes including CYP 1A, a protein that is induced through the action of the Ah receptor in response to dioxin and similar polyaromatic hydrocarbons. However, in the case of females, exposure to these effluents resulted in an up-regulation of CYP 1A that was accompanied by a generalized down-regulation of genes normally expressed during the reproductive season. These antiestrogenic changes are in agreement with previous studies in bass exposed to these effluents, and could result in decreased reproductive success in affected populations.
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