The potential for salt toxicity: Can the trans-epithelial potential (TEP) across the gills serve as a metric for major ion toxicity in fish?

Chris M. Wood, M. Danielle McDonald, Martin Grosell, David R. Mount, William J. Adams, Beverly H.K. Po, Kevin V. Brix

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


An emerging Multi-Ion Toxicity (MIT) model for assessment of environmental salt pollution is based on the premise that major ion toxicity to aquatic organisms is related to a critical disturbance of the trans-epithelial potential across the gills (ΔTEP), which can be predicted by electrochemical theory. However, the model has never been evaluated physiologically. We directly tested key assumptions by examining the individual effects of eight different salts (NaCl, Na2SO4, MgCl2, MgSO4, KCl, K2SO4, CaCl2, and CaSO4) on measured TEP in three different fish species (fathead minnow, Pimephales promelas = FHM; channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus = CC; bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus = BG). A geometric concentration series based on previously reported 96-h LC50 values for FHM was used. All salts caused concentration-dependent increases in TEP to less negative/more positive values in a pattern well-described by the Michaelis-Menten equation. The ΔTEP responses for different salts were similar to one another within each species when concentrations were expressed as a percentage of the FHM LC50. A plateau was reached at or before 100 % of the LC50 where the ΔTEP values were remarkably consistent, with only 1.4 to 2.2-fold variation. This relative uniformity in the ΔTEP responses contrasts with 28-fold variation in salt concentration (in mmol L−1), 9.6-fold in total dissolved solids, and 7.9-fold in conductivity at the LC50. The Michaelis-Menten Km values (salt concentrations causing 50 % of the ΔTEPmax) were positively related to the 96-h LC50 values. ΔTEP responses were not a direct effect of osmolarity in all species and were related to specific cation rather than specific anion concentrations in FHM. These responses were stable for up to 24 h in CC. The results provide strong physiological support for the assumptions of the MIT model, are coherent with electrochemical theory, and point to areas for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105568
JournalAquatic Toxicology
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Conductivity
  • Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz equation
  • Ictalurus punctatus
  • Lepomis macrochirus
  • Multi-ion toxicity (MIT) model
  • Pimephales promelas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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