The sublethal effects of copper on the sensory physiology of juvenile coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) were evaluated. In vivo field potential recordings from the olfactory epithelium (electro-olfactograms) were used to measure the impacts of copper on the responses of olfactory receptor neurons to natural odorants (L-serine and taurocholic acid) and an odorant mixture (L-arginine, L-aspartic acid, L-leucine, and L-serine) over a range of stimulus concentrations. Increases in copper impaired the neurophysiological response to all odorants within 10 min of exposure. The inhibitory effects of copper (1.0–20.0 μg/L) were dose-dependent and they were not influenced by water hardness. Toxicity thresholds for the different receptor pathways were determined by using the benchmark dose method and found to be similar (a 2.3–3.0 μg/L increase in total dissolved copper over background). Collectively, examination of these data indicates that copper is broadly toxic to the salmon olfactory nervous system. Consequently, short-term influxes of copper to surface waters may interfere with olfactory-mediated behaviors that are critical for the survival and migratory success of wild salmonids.
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