Cardiac Arrhythmia Is the Primary Response of Embryonic Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasi) Exposed to Crude Oil during Weathering

Teleost embryos develop a syndrome characterized by edema when exposed to water that weathers substrates contaminated with crude oil. Previous studies using zebrafish demonstrated that crude oil exposure causes cardiogenic edema, and that the most abundant polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in weathered crude oils (tricyclic fluorenes, dibenzothiophenes, and phenanthrenes) are cardiotoxic, causing arrhythmia through a pathway that does not require activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR). We demonstrate here for Pacific herring, a species impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, that the developing heart is the primary target of crude oil exposure. Herring embryos exposed to the effluent of oiled gravel columns developed dose-dependent edema and irregular cardiac arrhythmia soon after the heartbeat was established. At a dose that produced cardiac dysfunction in 100% of exposed embryos, tissue levels of tricyclic PAHs were below 1 μmol/kg, suggesting a specific, high affinity target in the heart. These findings have implications for understanding the mechanism of tricyclic PAH cardiotoxicity, the development of biomarkers for the effects of PAH exposure in fish, and understanding the long-term impacts of oil spills and other sources of PAH pollution in aquatic environments.