The aim of this study was to improve the knowledge on the metabolic pathways involved in benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P) activation and on the relationship between adduct levels and enzymatic biomarker activities. With this purpose, a model to assess pollutant exposure via food supply has been developed for the sentinel organism, Mytilus galloprovincialis. Mussels were fed for 4 weeks with B[a]P-contaminated feed (50 mg/kg dry weight mussel). Bioaccumulation was studied by determination of B[a]P concentration in whole mussel by GC/MS analysis. Different biomarkers of pollutant exposure were measured to assess the metabolic state of the exposed organisms. CYP1A-like immunopositive protein titration and B[a]P hydroxylase (BPH) activity were assessed as indicators of phase I biotransformation. Glutathione-S-transferase (GST) activity was measured as an indicator of the conjugation activities. Catalase (CAT) and DT-diaphorase (DTD) activities were assessed as potential biomarkers of oxidative stress, whereas acetylthiocholine esterase (AChE) activity was measured as an indication of possible neurotoxicity of B[a]P exposure. DNA adduct levels were determined in digestive gland DNA by applying the 32P-postlabeling technique with nuclease P1 enhancement. For the developed conditions of exposure, B[a]P concentration reached in whole mussel tissues was very high (>500 mg/kg d.w. mussel) and significant B[a]P-induced changes were recorded for each enzymatic biomarkers. BPH and CAT activities were significantly increased by B[a]P exposure, whereas GST in the gills, DTD and AChE were significantly depressed. On the other hand, no change in CYP1A-like immunopositive protein content was observed. Induction and increase with time of bulky B[a]P-related DNA adducts were demonstrated in the digestive gland, although at low levels (0.269+/-0.082 adduct/10e8 dNps at maximum) by the 32P-postlabeling assay. DNA adduct level was significantly correlated with whole mussel tissue B[a]P concentration, so were all the enzymatic biomarkers measured except to GST activity in both gill and digestive gland tissues. BPH, DTD, CAT and AChE displayed a strong correlation with adduct levels. These results demonstrate the neurotoxicity and the genotoxicity of B[a]P exposure in the mussel. The induction of bulky DNA adducts in mussels demonstrates the existence of activation pathways already identified in vertebrates. It validates also the suitability of this model for further studies on B[a]P metabolism in mussels. Our results support the proposal of BPH, AChE, DTD and CAT activities as suitable biomarkers of PAH exposure for these sentinel species.

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