Sublethal dietary effects of microcystin producing Microcystis on threadfin shad, Dorosoma petenense

Shawn Acuña, Dolores Baxa, Swee J Teh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The presence of the toxic cyanobacterium Microcystis in the upper San Francisco Estuary (SFE) since 1999 is a potential but unquantified threat to the health and survival of aquatic organisms such as fish and zooplankton. The microcystins (MCs) predominantly in the LR-form (MC-LR) produced by Microcystis is hepatotoxic and a potential threat to the fishery. Concurrently, in the SFE significant declines in pelagic fish, known as the Pelagic Organism Decline (POD), has been recognized by state and federal agencies since 2000. In 2005, the presence of the toxic algal bloom, Microcystis has been hypothesized as a link to the POD by the Interagency Ecology Program Management Team. This study aims to characterize the toxic effects of Microcystis in one of the POD species, threadfin shad (Dorosoma petenense) by exposure to diets containing Microcystis harvested from the SFE. The diets contained Microcystis with 4.4 (D5) and 10.0 (D10) μg g-1 MC-LR that was fed to threadfin shad for 57 days. The treatments were compared to the control diet, 0 μg g-1 MC-LR (D0). Results showed that ingested Microcystis was localized in the gut by in situ hybridization and MCs were localized in the tissues of the gut, kidney and liver. Condition factor (CF) and liver and gonadal lesions were sensitive to MC exposure. There was a significant inverse relationship between CF and MC-LR with exposed fish exhibiting severe cachexia. Liver lesions of sinusoidal congestion and glycogen depletion significantly increased with increasing MC-LR concentrations, indicating hemorrhaging in the liver and poor nutritional status, respectively. In females, there was a significant increase in severe ovarian necrosis with increasing MC-LR concentration, indicating loss of reproductive potential. The results indicate that MC-LR from Microcystis significantly impairs the health and reproductive potential of threadfin shad has a potential negative effect on populations in the SFE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1191-1202
Number of pages12
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • Microcystin
  • Microcystis
  • San Francisco Estuary
  • Threadfin shad

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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