Evaluation of the immune responses of the brown musselPerna pernaas indicators of fecal pollution

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The mussel Perna perna is an intertidal bivalve that is widely distributed, cultivated and consumed in South Africa, Brazil and Venezuela. Among marine resources, bivalve mollusks are one of the most impacted by anthropogenic pollution, as they can accumulate pathogenic bacteria and water pollutants. Hemocytes are molluscan defense cells, and their abundance and functions can be affected in response to contaminants, such as bacterial load. However, no previous study has investigated the immune response of P. perna hemocytes. The aim of this study was to evaluate several immune parameters in P. perna as indicators of fecal pollution in mussel hemolymph and in seawater. We collected mussels and adjacent seawater from beaches with different levels of fecal contamination in Rio de Janeiro state (Brazil): Vermelha Beach (VB); Icaraí Beach (IB); Urca Beach (UB); and Jurujuba Beach (JB). Hemocyte parameters (density, morphology, phagocytic activity and production of Reactive Oxygen Species - ROS) were evaluated using flow cytometry. We quantified Fecal Indicator Bacteria (FIB) in seawater by the multiple tubes technique for each beach and for hemolymph by the spread-plate technique. In agreement with historical evaluation of fecal contamination levels, UB presented the highest FIB abundance in seawater (thermotolerant coliforms, TEC = 1600 NMP 100 mL−1), whereas VB exhibited the lowest (TEC = 17 NMP 100 mL−1). UB mussels had six and eight times higher hemocyte density and phagocytic activity, respectively, than mussels from VB. Mussels from VB and IB presented a significantly lower number of total coliforms in hemolymph and a significantly higher relative internal complexity of hemocytes than those from UB and JB (p ≤ 0.01, PERMANOVA). ROS production by hemocytes was significantly lower in mussels from VB compared to those from JB (p = 0.04, ANOVA). Our results indicate a significant relationship between the level of fecal contamination in aquatic environments and the immune response of mussel hemocytes. Immune-related parameters may therefore be useful as indicators of bivalve health and environmental quality. Our flow cytometric analysis of P. perna hemocytes represents a new approach for studying Perna perna biology and might represent a novel tool for measuring organic pollution and water quality.

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