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Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry


Previous studies have shown inexplicable declines in breeding waterbirds within western New York/New Jersey Harbor between 1996 and 2002 and elevated polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) eggs. The present study assessed associations between immune function, prefledgling survival, and selected organochlorine compounds and metals in herring gulls (Larus argentatus) and black-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) in lower New York Harbor during 2003. In pipping gull embryos, lymphoid cells were counted in the thymus and bursa of Fabricius (sites of T and B lymphocyte maturation, respectively). The phytohemagglutinin (PHA) skin response assessed T cell function in gull and heron chicks. Lymphocyte proliferation was measured in vitro in adult and prefledgling gulls. Reference data came from the Great Lakes and Bay of Fundy. Survival of prefledgling gulls was poor, with only 0.68 and 0.5 chicks per nest surviving to three and four weeks after hatch, respectively. Developing lymphoid cells were reduced 51% in the thymus and 42% in the bursa of gull embryos from New York Harbor. In vitro lymphocyte assays demonstrated reduced spontaneous proliferation, reduced T cell mitogen-induced proliferation, and increased B cell mitogen-induced proliferation in gull chicks from New York Harbor. The PHA skin response was suppressed 70 to 80% in gull and heron chicks. Strong negative correlations (r=-0.95 to -0.98) between the PHA response and dioxins and PCBs in gull livers was strong evidence suggesting that these chemicals contribute significantly to immunosuppression in New York Harbor waterbirds. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2013;32:548-561.

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