Free-ranging sea otters are subject to hydrocarbon exposure from a variety of sources, both natural and anthropogenic. Effects of direct exposure to unrefined crude oil, such as that associated with the Exxon Valdez oil spill, are readily apparent. However, the impact of subtle but pathophysiologically relevant concentrations of crude oil on sea otters is difficult to assess. The present study was directed at developing a model for assessing the impact of low concentrations of fuel oil on sea otters. Quantitative PCR was used to identify differential gene expression in American mink that were exposed to low concentrations of bunker C fuel oil. A total of 23 genes, representing 10 different physiological systems, were analyzed for perturbation. Six genes with immunological relevance were differentially expressed in oil-fed mink. Interleukin-18 (IL-18), IL-10, inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2), and complement cytolysis inhibitor (CLI) were down-regulated while IL-2 was up-regulated. Expression of two additional genes was affected; heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) was up-regulated and thyroid hormone receptor (THR) was down-regulated. While the significance of each perturbation is not immediately evident, we identified differential expression of genes that would be consistent with the presence of immune system-modifying and endocrine-disrupting compounds in fuel oil. Application of this approach to identify effects of petroleum contamination on sea otters should be possible following expansion of this mink model to identify a greater number of affected genes in peripheral blood leukocytes. ?? 2007 Ecohealth Journal Consortium.
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Differential gene expression induced by exposure of captive mink to fuel oil: A model for the sea otter