Benzo(a)pyrene exposure causes adaptive changes in p53 and CYP1A gene expression in Brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Aquatic Toxicology



First Page


Last Page



The Brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus) is able to survive and reproduce in high levels of environmentally contaminated areas of the Great Lakes. The purpose of this study was to establish whether there are adaptive genetic/molecular changes occurring in these fish that allow for their survival. Expression of a cell cycle regulator, p53 and the toxin metabolizing protein, CYP1A were measured in liver tissue from bullhead caught from either clean or contaminated areas of Lake Erie and surrounding areas. Wild caught fish and F1 raised offspring (whose parents originated from clean and contaminated sites) were used to measure endogenous gene expression levels. Results revealed that endogenous expression of p53 was on average 6.6× higher in contaminated fish than in fish caught from clean sites. Interestingly, when fed benzo(a)pyrene (BaP)-treated food, p53 expression increased 0.2× in clean fish and decreased 2.6× in contaminated fish. Endogenous CYP1A expression was not detectable in clean fish and low in contaminated fish. Upon exposure to BaP-treated food, CYP1A expression increased in both clean and contaminated fish, although at a higher rate in clean fish. Furthermore, when fish were cleared and then re-exposed to BaP, CYP1A expression increased from basal levels at a higher rate in clean versus contaminated fish. CYP1A and p53 expression in F1 offspring was similar to wild caught fish at the endogenous level and when fed BaP treated food. Results suggest that fish in contaminated regions may be implementing an adaptive response to severe environmental stress by maintaining high expression of p53 and low expression of CYP1A; thus lending increased protection to cells and decreasing the potential amount of carcinogens produced by contaminant metabolism.