Investigations of the Influence of Pollutants on the Endocrine and Immune Systems of Harbour Porpoises from the German North and Baltic Seas
IAAAM Archive
Ursula Siebert1; Arndt Vossen1; Wolfgang Baumgärtner2; Andreas Beineke2; Gundi Müller2; Michael McLachlan3; Regina Bruhn3; Kristina Thon3
1Forschungs-und Technologiezentrum Westküste, Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel, Hafentörn, 25761 Büsum, Germany; 2Institut für Veterinär-Pathologie, Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, Frankfurter Straße 96, 35392 Gießen, Germany; 3Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde an der Universität Rostock, Seestraße 15, 18119 Rostock-Warnemünde, Germany


The harbour porpoise is the only true native cetacean species in the German North Sea and Baltic Sea. Because of a decline of the population in recent decades a project was launched aiming to investigate the influence of pollutants on the endocrinium and immune system of harbour porpoises. Investigations are performed to find endocrine and immune disrupting effects on animals originating from the North and Baltic Seas and to compare these findings with observations from animals of Icelandic, Norwegian and Greenlandic waters.

Studies on the immune system revealed that several monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies from other species showed a specific reaction with cells of lymphoid tissues from harbour porpoises. Concanavalin A, pokeweed mitogen, phytohemagglutinin used in the lymphocyte transformation test showed a mitogen-induced induction of proliferation of peripheral blood lymphocytes. Using RT-PCR, cDNA of IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-10 ,TGFβ und TNF-alpha was amplified in mitogen-stimulated lymphocytes and expression of iNOS mRNA was detected in lymphoid tissue.

Adrenal glands, hypophyses and thyroid glands represent major target organs of endocrine disruptors and were therefore investigated for possible pathological changes. The thyroid glands in animals from Germany, Iceland and Norway showed a significant difference in the degree of severity of fibrosis between the three groups. Minimal interfollicular fibrosis was observed in the thyroid glands of Icelandic animals. In contrast thyroid glands from German and Norwegian harbour porpoises showed a moderate to severe interfollicular fibrosis.

In addition polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT, toxaphene and polybrominated diphenylethers were analysed in blubber samples of the harbour porpoises. The PCB concentrations (sum of 15 congeners) ranged from 0.05 to 13 µg/g lipid and that the animals from Iceland had lower levels.

Summarizing the preliminary results suggest that thyroid glands of harbour porpoises are adversely affected by chemical endocrine disruptors, which might result in a thyroid disfunction.

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Ursula Siebert
Research and Technology Center Westcoast
University of Kiel
Büsum, Germany

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