Adverse effects of selenium (Se) in wild aquatic birds have been documented as a consequence of pollution of the aquatic environment by subsurface agricultural drainwater and other sources. These effects include mortality, impaired reproduction with teratogenesis, reduced growth, histopathological lesions and alterations in hepatic glutathione metabolism. A review is provided, relating adverse biological effects of Se in aquatic birds to altered glutathione metabolism and oxidative stress. Laboratory studies, mainly with an organic form of Se, selenomethionine, have revealed oxidative stress in different stages of the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) life cycle. As dietary and tissue concentrations of Se increase, increases in plasma and hepatic GSH peroxidase activities occur, followed by dose-dependent increases in the ratio of hepatic oxidized to reduced glutathione (GSSG:GSH) and ultimately hepatic lipid peroxidation measured as an increase in thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS). One or more of these oxidative effects were associated with teratogenesis (4.6 ppm wet weight Se in eggs), reduced growth in ducklings (15 ppm Se in liver), diminished immune function (5 ppm Se in liver) and histopathological lesions (29 ppm Se in liver) in adults. Manifestations of Serelated effects on glutathione metabolism were also apparent in field studies in seven species of aquatic birds. Reduced growth and possibly immune function but increased liver:body weight and hepatic GSSG:GSH ratios were apparent in American avocet (Recurvirostra americana) hatchlings from eggs containing 9 ppm Se. In blacknecked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus), which contained somewhat lower Se concentrations, a decrease in hepatic GSH was apparent with few other effects. In adult American coots (Fulica americana), signs of Se toxicosis included emaciation, abnormal feather loss and histopathological lesions. Mean liver concentrations of 28 ppm Se (ww) in the coots were associated with elevated hepatic GSH peroxidase, depletion of hepatic protein bound thiols and total thiols, but a small increase in GSH. Diving ducks in the San Francisco Bay area exhibited a positive correlation between hepatic Se concentration and GSH peroxidase activity (r=0.63, P<0.05), but a negative correlation between hepatic Se and GSH concentration (r=0.740, P<0.05). In willets (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus) from the San Diego area, positive correlations occurred between hepatic Se concentration and GSSG (r=0.70, P<0.001), GSSG:GSH ratio, and TBARS. In emperor geese (Chen canagica) from western Alaska, blood levels of up to 9.4 ppm occurred and were associated with increased plasma GSH peroxidase activity (r=0.62, P<0.001), but with decreased plasma GSSG reductase activity. When evaluating Se toxicity, interactive nutritional factors, including other elements and dietary protein, should also be taken into consideration. Further studies are needed to examine the relationship between different forms of environmentally occurring selenium, arsenic and mercury on reproduction, hepatotoxicity and immune function of aquatic birds. Further selenium nutritional interaction studies may also help to illucidate the mechanism of selenium induced teratogenesis, by optimizing GSH and other antioxidant defense mechanisms in a manner that would stabilize or raise the cell's threshold for susceptibility to toxic attack from excess selenium. It is concluded that Se-related manifestations of oxidative stress may serve as useful bioindicators of Se exposure and toxicity in wild aquatic birds.
Additional publication details
Role of selenium toxicity and oxidative stress in aquatic birds