Immunophenotypic and functional effects of bunker C fuel oil on the immune system of American mink (Mustela vison)

Julie A. Schwartz, Brian M. Aldridge, Jeff L. Stott, F. Charles Mohr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relationship between exposure to environmental contaminants and immunotoxicity in vulnerable marine species is unknown. In this study, we used American mink (Mustela vision) as a surrogate species for the sea otter to examine the immunotoxic effects of chronic exposure to a low concentration of bunker C fuel oil (500 ppm admixed in the feed for 113-118 days). The mink immune system was monitored over time by flow cytometric analysis for alterations in the immunophenotype of blood lymphocytes and monocytes and by mitogen-stimulated proliferation assays for changes in peripheral blood mononuclear cell function. Fuel oil exposure caused a mild, yet significant (P < 0.05) increase in the absolute numbers of specific peripheral blood lymphocyte subsets (CD3+T cells) and monocytes, an increase in the level of expression of functionally significant cell surface proteins (MHC II, CD18), and an increase in mitogen-induced mononuclear cell proliferative responses. This heightened state of cellular activation along with the increase in specific cell surface protein expression on both the innate and adaptive immune cells is similar to the pro-inflammatory or "adjuvant-like" effect described in laboratory models of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposure in other species. These results show the benefits of using a controlled laboratory model for detecting and characterizing subtle petroleum oil-induced perturbations in immune responses. In addition this study establishes a framework for studying the effects of environmental petroleum oil exposure on the immune system of free-ranging marine mammals. Expansion of these studies to address biolgical significance is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-190
Number of pages12
JournalVeterinary Immunology and Immunopathology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Bunker C fuel oil
  • Chronic
  • Immunotoxicity
  • Mink
  • Petroleum oil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • veterinary(all)


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