Effects of chronic waterborne and dietary metal exposures on gill metal-binding: Implications for the biotic ligand model

S. Niyogi, Chris M. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


The biotic ligand modeling (BLM) approach has gained recent widespread interest among the scientific and regulatory communities because of its potential for developing ambient water quality criteria (AWQC), which are site-specific, and in performing aquatic risk assessment for metals. Currently, BLMs are used for predicting acute toxicity (96 h LC50 for fish) in any defined water chemistry. The conceptual framework of the BLM has a strong physiological basis because it considers that toxicity of metals occurs due to the binding of free metal ions at the physiologically active sites of action (biotic ligand, e.g., fish gill) on the aquatic organism, which can be characterized by conditional binding constants (log K) and densities (Bmax). At present, these models assume that only water chemistry variables such as competing cations (e.g., Na+, Ca2+, Mg2+, and H+), inorganic ligands (e.g., hydroxides, chlorides, carbonates), and organic ligands (dissolved organic matter) can influence the bioavailability of free metal ions and thereby the acute toxicity of metals. Current BLMs do not consider the effects of chronic history of the fish in modifying gill-metal binding characteristics and acute toxicity. Here, for Cu, Cd, and Zn, we review a number of recent studies on the rainbow trout that describe significant modifying effects of chronic acclimation to waterborne factors (hardness and chronic metal exposure) and dietary composition (metal and essential ion content) on gill metal-binding characteristics (on both log K and B max) and on acute toxicity. We conclude that the properties of gill-metal interaction and toxicological sensitivity appear to be dynamic rather than fixed, with important implications for further development of both acute and chronic BLMs. Now that the initial framework of the BLM has been established, future research needs a more integrative approach with additional emphasis on the dynamic properties of the biotic ligand to make it a successful tool for ecological risk assessment of metals in the natural environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)813-846
Number of pages34
JournalHuman and Ecological Risk Assessment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2003


  • Biotic Ligand Model
  • Cadmium
  • Chronic toxicity
  • Copper
  • Gill-binding
  • Zinc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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