Inhibition of digestive enzyme activities by copper in the guts of various marine benthic invertebrates



Digestive systems of deposit and suspension feeders can be exposed to high concentrations of copper (Cu) by ingestion of contaminated sediments. We assessed a potential impact of this Cu exposure on digestive enzyme activities in a wide range of benthic organisms by monitoring enzyme activities in their gut fluids during in vitro titrations with dissolved Cu, which mimics Cu solubilization from sediments. Increasing Cu inhibited digestive protease activities at threshold values, which varied widely among organisms, from 8 μM for an echinoderm to 0.4 M for an echiuran. More Cu was required to inhibit proteases in guts containing higher amino acid concentrations because strong Cu-binding sites on amino acids prevent Cu interaction with the enzymatically active sites. Threshold Cu concentrations were similar for proteases, esterases, lipases, and α- and β-glucosidases, suggesting the same inhibition mechanism. Copper was less effective at inhibiting enzymes at lower pH, suggesting that protons can compete with Cu ion for binding to enzymatically active sites or that enzyme conformation is less vulnerable to Cu inhibition at lower pH. These results lead to the counterintuitive conclusion that deposit feeders with low enzyme activity, low amino acid concentration, and high pH values are most vulnerable to harm from sedimentary Cu by this mechanism, although they solubilize less sedimentary Cu than their counterparts with high enzyme activity, high amino acid concentrations, and low gut pH. In general, digestive systems of echinoderms may therefore be more susceptible to Cu contamination than those of polychaetes, with various other phyla showing intermediate susceptibilities. If threshold Cu values are converted to solid-phase sedimentary Cu concentrations, the thresholds are at least consistent with Cu loadings that have been observed to lead to biological impacts in the field.