Challenges for the development of a biotic ligand model predicting copper toxicity in estuaries and seas



An effort is ongoing to develop a biotic ligand model (BLM) that predicts copper (Cu) toxicity in estuarine and marine environments. At present, the BLM accounts for the effects of water chemistry on Cu speciation, but it does not consider the influence of water chemistry on the physiology of the organisms. We discuss how chemistry affects Cu toxicity not only by controlling its speciation, but also by affecting the osmoregulatory physiology of the organism, which varies according to salinity. In an attempt to understand the mechanisms of Cu toxicity and predict its impacts, we explore the hypothesis that the common factor linking the main toxic effects of Cu is the enzyme carbonic anhydrase (CA), because it is a Cu target with multiple functions and salinity-dependent expression and activity. According to this hypothesis, the site of action of Cu in marine fish may be not only the gill, but also the intestine, because in this tissue CA plays an important role in ion transport and water adsorption. Therefore, the BLM of Cu toxicity to marine fish should also consider the intestine as a biotic ligand. Finally, we underline the need to incorporate the osmotic gradient into the BLM calculations to account for the influence of physiology on Cu toxicity. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2012;31:230–238. © 2011 SETAC