In aquatic organisms, the immune function can be affected by exposure to environmental pollutants, including heavy metals. In vertebrate systems, different forms of Cr have been shown induce either immunostimulatory or immunosuppressive processes. Hexavalent Cr, Cr(VI), is an important contaminant released from both domestic and industrial effluents, and the predominant chemical form of the metal in aquatic ecosystems.
In this work, the in vitro and in vivo effects of Cr(VI) on immune parameters of the marine bivalve Mytilus galloprovincialis were evaluated. Hemocyte incubation with different concentrations of Cr(VI) (0.1–1–10–100 μM) induced a dose-dependent decrease in lysosomal membrane stability (LMS). Decreases in extracellular lysozyme release and phagocytic activity were also observed, with stronger effects at lower metal concentrations. On the other hand, in these conditions, Cr(VI) stimulated extracellular superoxide production and nitrite accumulation.
The effects of Cr(VI) were also evaluated in mussels exposed to the metal (0.1–1–10 μg L−1, corresponding to nanomolar concentrations) for 96 h. Decreases in hemocyte LMS values and in serum lysozyme activity were observed with increasing metal concentrations. Decreased phagocytic activity and increased NO production were recorded, with stronger effects at lower concentrations. In these conditions, decreased Total Hemocyte Counts (THC), but no necrotic/apoptotic processes were observed. Moreover, Cr(VI) at both 0.1 and 1 μg L−1 seemed to induce significant changes in transcription of immune genes (lysozyme, Mytilin C, Myticin B, defensin, MgC1q), of the serotonin receptor (5-HTR) and of the stress protein HSP70, whereas that of the anti-apoptotic gene p53 was unaffected. Overall, the results indicate that exposure to non-toxic, environmentally relevant concentrations of Cr(VI) can modulate functional and molecular immune parameters in M. galloprovincialis.