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Scientists discover the mechanism of heart failure in fish exposed to oil spills
Date:2/14/2014

ith each heartbeat, countless cardiac muscle cells are synchronized so that their individual contractions add up to the coordinated pumping action of the heart. Near the end of each contraction cycle, positively charged potassium ions flow out of the muscle cell through ion channels in the cell membrane, priming the cell for the next cycle. This new research demonstrates that PAHs can block potassium ion channels in the heart cells of tunas. They can also disrupt calcium ion cycling within isolated muscle cells. Together, these effects are thought to underlie the slowed or irregular heartbeats observed in fish embryos exposed to crude oil.

"When we see these kinds of acute effects at the cardiac cell level," said Barbara Block, who led the team of Stanford University scientists working on this study, "it is not surprising that chronic exposure to oil from spills such as Deepwater Horizon can lead to long-term problems in fish hearts."

The study notes that, because the structure of ion channels is similar in the heart muscle cells of many species, related disruptions might occur in the hearts of other vertebrates.

To demonstrate the effect of PAHs on the cardiac cells of tuna, scientists had to measure the flow of electrical current across the membranes of individual cells. "That requires some very specialized skills and equipment," said John Incardona, another NOAA scientist and a coauthor of the study.

This experimental capacity was provided by the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, jointly operated by Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Scientists there measured the electrical properties of individual heart muscle cells using a "patch clamp" technique, which involves micron-scale glass electrodes.

The Stanford scientists provided expertise in tuna husbandry, cardiac physiology, single-cell electrophysiology, and optical imaging. NOAA's Ecotoxicology Program provided expertise in designing oil exposure studies, and in understa
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Contact: Rich Press
rich.press@noaa.gov
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service
Source:Eurekalert  

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