The aim of this study was to evaluate the usefulness of antioxidant parameters in the freshwater bivalve, Unio tumidus, as biomarkers of exposure to pollutants and to study their potential interest in predicting toxicity. Selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidase (Se-GPx), non-selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidase (nou-Se-GPx), glutathione reductase (GRd), catalase, and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activities; reduced (GSH) and oxidized (GSSG) glutathione levels; and lipid peroxidation were measured in the gills and digestive glands of Unit. Control mussels were encaged and transplanted for 15 and 30 days to sites where the contamination of sediments was analyzed, along a river receiving domestic and industrial sources of pollution. After 15 days of exposure, all antioxidant parameters of the bivalves transferred to the most polluted sites had strongly decreased compared with control values. This was particularly true for Se-GPx and GRd activities, which were inhibited by 60 and 80% in the two tissues, and for GSH levels (80% reduction in the gills and 60% in digestive glands). These decreases were associated in the gills with lipid peroxidation (measured by malondialdehyde content) and with a high level of contamination of sediments by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls. In the mussels exposed at the least polluted sites, the same parameters decreased in the gills, but to a lesser extent: 50% for Se-GPx and 32% for GRd activities, and 45% for GSH levels. The gills appeared more sensitive than the digestive glands. After 30 days of exposure, while Se-GPx, GRd, and GSH remained reduced, a significant induction of non-Se-GPx and catalase activities was recorded in the gills, which reflected an adaptation of the transplanted species to their unsafe environment. All the results indicated that antioxidant defense components, namely, Se-GPx, GRd, and GSH, are sensitive parameters that could he useful biomarkers for the evaluation of contaminated aquatic ecosystems. The relationship between the degree of deficiency of antioxidant defenses and lipid peroxidation suggests that these parameters could also be biomarkers for toxicity.
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