The effects of Deepwater Horizon crude oil on ammonia and urea handling in mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) early life stages

Y. Wang, C. Pasparakis, J. D. Stieglitz, D. D. Benetti, M. Grosell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Many ecologically important fishes, including mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus), and their offspring were directly exposed to crude oil following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. Early life stage fish are especially vulnerable to the toxicity of crude oil-derived polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In teleosts, yolk sac proteins are the main energy source during development and are usually catabolized into ammonia or urea among other byproducts. Although excretion of these waste products is sensitive to oil exposure, we know little about the underlying mechanisms of this process. In this study, we examined the effects of crude oil on ammonia and urea handling in the early life stages of mahi. Mahi embryos exposed to 30–32 μg L−1 ∑PAH exhibited increased urea excretion rates and greater accumulation of urea in the tissues before hatch suggesting that ammonia, which is highly toxic, was converted into less-toxic urea. Oil-exposed embryos (6.3–32 μg L−1 ∑PAH) displayed significantly increased tissue ammonia levels at 42 hpf and upregulated mRNA levels of ammonia transporters (Rhag, Rhbg and Rhcg1) from 30 to 54 hpf. However, despite increased accumulation and higher expression of ammonia transporters, the larvae exposed to higher ∑PAH (30 μg L−1 ∑PAH) showed reduced ammonia excretion rates after hatch. Together, the increased production of nitrogenous waste reinforces previous work that increased energy demand in oil-exposed embryos is fueled, at least in part, by protein metabolism and that urea synthesis plays a role in ammonia detoxification in oil-exposed mahi embryos. To our knowledge, this study is the first to combine physiological and molecular approaches to assess the impact of crude-oil on both nitrogenous waste excretion and accumulation in the early life stages of any teleosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105294
JournalAquatic Toxicology
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Fish development
  • Rhesus glycoproteins
  • Seawater fish
  • Toxicity
  • UT

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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