Subcellular biochemical biomarkers are valuable early warning indicators of environmental contaminant effects. Thus, the present study evaluated several biomarkers and the relationships among them in wild freshwater mussels (Lasmigona costata) from a gradient of metal exposure and differential levels of other urban-related influences in the Grand River (ON, Canada). The biomarkers examined are related to metal exposure [gill ion and metal concentrations (Na, K, Ca, Mg, Cd, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn)], oxidative status [reactive oxygen species (ROS), catalase (CAT), superoxide dismutase (SOD), antioxidant capacity (ACAP)], sulfhydryl (SH) metabolism [glutathione (GSH), protein sulfhydryl groups (SH protein), glutathione S-transferase (GST), glutathione reductase (GR)], and lipid peroxidation. Gill metal concentration increased proportionally to waterborne metal concentration and disturbances in osmotic and divalent cations (Ca and Mg) concentrations were observed. This suggests that the observed effects are associated with metal exposure, although simultaneous relationships with other contaminants are also possible. Oxidative status biomarkers (ROS, SOD, CAT and ACAP) were more sensitive to urban-influences than gill metal concentration. In contrast, biomarkers involving SH metabolism (GSH, SH protein, total SH, GR and GST) were more correlated with gill metal concentration. Oxidative damage occurred when both metal and urban-related influences were high. Mechanistically, the way of dealing with oxidative stress changed when mussels were exposed to high levels of contaminants. The reduction in ROS content, SOD and CAT activity, and ACAP accompanying the stimulation of detoxification metabolism via SH (GSH and SH protein contents, GST and GR activities) and their association with gill metal concentration are discussed.
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