Effects of early-life lead exposure on oxidative status and phagocytosis activity in great tits (Parus major)

Miia J. Rainio, Tapio Eeva, Thomas Lilley, Janina Stauffer, Suvi Ruuskanen

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Abstract Lead is a highly poisonous metal with a very long half-life, distributing throughout the body in blood and accumulating primarily in bones and kidney. We studied the short and long-term effects of early-life lead exposure on antioxidant defense and phagocytosis activity in a small passerine bird, the great tit (Parus major) by manipulating dietary lead levels of the nestlings. We had three experimental groups, exposed to environmentally relevant lead concentrations; high (4 μg/g body mass), low (1 μg/g body mass) and control (0 μg/g body mass) group. As a comparison, a great tit population breeding in the vicinity of a metal smelter was included to the experimental set-up. We measured glutathione, the ratio of reduced and oxidized glutathione, and the antioxidant enzymes: glutathione peroxidase, glutathione-S-transferase, catalase and superoxide dismutase together with protein carbonylation and phagocytosis activity to study the effects of lead on the oxidative status and immune function of birds. We found differences in enzyme activities between the study groups, but in most cases the smelter group differed from the other groups. Despite the differences observed in antioxidant enzymes, our results indicate only minor short-term effects of lead exposure on oxidative status, since either glutathione ratio or protein carbonylation were not affected by lead. Phagocytosis activity was not linked to higher lead concentrations either. Interestingly, protein carbonylation was positively associated with enzyme activities and glutathione level. Our results did not show major long-term effects of lead on the oxidative status of great tits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-34
Number of pages11
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology - Part C: Toxicology & Pharmacology
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Antioxidants
  • Birds
  • Lead
  • Metals
  • Phagocytosis
  • Oxidative status
  • Protein damage
  • ROS
  • international


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