The levels of specific biomarkers of oxidative stress (enzymes) were evaluated in tilapia (O. Niloticus). These results revealed a significant elevation of lipid peroxidation in fish in the highest metal concentration treatment. The evident increase in lipid peroxidation may be related to the accumulation of heavy metals in the flesh of the fish. Metal catalyzed formation of ROS that may damage DNA, protein, and lipids are well documented (Olaifa et al. 2004), also the level of certain biomarkers of oxidative stress was elevated in Clarias gariepinus from the Ogun River (Zhang et al. 2004). Catalase is one of the prime enzymes for the detoxification of ROS in all organisms and catalyzes toxic H2O2 to harmless H2O and O2. However, CAT activity analysis in the liver showed that Pb mostly had no significant effect on enzyme activity except in the group exposed to 0.25 mg/L Pb concentration after the sixth week. Atli et al. (2006) researched the response of CAT activity to Ag+, Cd2+, Cr6+, Cu2+, and Zn2+. They reported that CAT activity either did not change or decreased possibly because of metal binding to these proteins. This study recorded that Ag+, Cr6+, and Cu2+ decreased the activity of CAT in vivo possibly because of metal binding to these proteins, while Cd2+ and Zn2+ had no effect. This points out that not all heavy metal pollutants affect the CAT activity in the liver of fish. According to our study, Pb may fall under the second group that does not affect CAT activity.
In contrast, levels of GSH activity in the liver of fish were significantly elevated. A noticeable increase in GSH levels in the organs suggests a protective and adaptive function of this biomolecule against oxidative stress induced by heavy metals. An increase in the production of antioxidant enzymes reflects an adaptive response that allows a partial overcoming of the oxidative stress caused by exposure to a polluted environment (Helmy, 2012). Koss et al. (1991) also reported that GSH levels can increase as an adaptive process by means of an increased synthesis during moderate oxidative stress. Hence, we could suggest that tilapia which was in direct contact with Pb contaminated water had been exposed to moderate oxidative stress, which lead to an increased synthesis of GSH as a protective mechanism to this stressful situation.
This is in line with the research findings of Koss et al. (1991); Hamed et al. (2003); Li et al. (2003) and Pandey et al. (2003) who reported the increase of GSH levels in fish in a polluted area.
Glutathione-S-transferase (GST) is an important enzyme of phase II biotransformation. It protects the cell against toxic substances by catalyzing the conjugation of a wide variety of electrophilic substrates of the xenobiotic agents (Samanta et al. 2008; Ballesteros et al. 2009). Additionally, a decrease in GST activity during the exposure period may suggest a failure of the detoxification process, but at the same time, the induction of GST in fish tissues is regarded as beneficial for managing a stress condition. The high differences in GST activity on the first week can be explained if fish hadn’t yet acclimatized completely, but on the third week, you can see the stabilization of GST activity in the liver. Then again temperature/weather changes may result in an average increase of GST activity levels on the sixth week. Overall, no significant differences between groups were recorded during the experiment except in the group exposed to 0.25mg/L Pb concentration after the sixth week. Although Ballesteros et al. (2009) observed decreased GST in the liver of Jenynsia multidentata exposed to endosulfan and de Menezes et al. (2011) found decreased GST in the liver of Rhamdia quelen exposed to Roundup, it should be understood that different pollutants affect an organism in many different ways.
Our results reveal that the highest concentration group had significantly increased MDA activity in the liver of tilapia during the entire experiment duration. The typical reaction during ROS-induced damage involves the peroxidation of unsaturated fatty acids increasing tissue MDA levels. Lipid peroxidation produced after exposure to Pb contaminated water is considered a valuable indicator of oxidative damage of cellular components (Helmy 2012). Therefore, our results indicate that tilapia has suffered a noticeable lipid peroxidation recognized from an increase in liver MDA levels, together with the increase of GSH levels in the liver.
These results agree with the findings of Upasani and Balaraman (2003) who reported that Pb exposure leads to a significant increase in lipid peroxide level and a decrease in the levels of endogenous antioxidants in the liver and kidney. Identically, Patra et al. (2001) noted that there is a significant increase in the lipid peroxidation in the liver and brain in animals exposed to Pb. In fact, several research findings suggest that Pb might produce a toxic action due to its ability to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) which inflict oxidative damage in different tissues by enhancing lipid peroxidation through the Fenton reaction (El-Sokkary et al. 2003; Sahar et al. 2008dár et al. 2005).
Nevertheless, Pb pollution in the water did not affect considerably SOD activity during the experiment. Although SOD catalytically scavenges superoxide radicals, which may act as an important agent of toxicity of oxygen (Crestani et al. 2006), Pb did not cause SOD inhibition or induction. It suggests that each heavy metal may impact the fish in different ways.
The increased protein level in the liver after Pb exposure may indicate that organism is accumulating protein since it’s being used in the anabolism process for meeting the high energy demand for augmentation of the defense mechanism of an organism against oxidative stress as a compensatory response. Similar results were also reported by Crestani et al. (2006) who observed increased protein levels in the liver of Rhamdia quelen exposed to clomazone. On the contrary, Begum et al. (2004) and David et al. (2004) pointed decrease in protein levels as a response to herbicides.
It is notable that CAT, SOD, and GST activities were not significantly affected during the experiment, whereas significant increases of MDA and GSH activities in the liver of fish were recorded. It may be accounted to the fact that the liver is more stable in the face of oxidative stress and a uniform organ with the highest antioxidant enzyme activities compared to other tissues (SOD, CAT) and it is the site of multiple oxidative reactions and maximal free radical generation (Avci et al. 2005; Oropesa et al. 2009).
Notably, lower concentrations of Pb did not show a significant effect, compared to the highest concentration, however, several studies report that a lot of rivers water bodies have the same and sometimes higher pollution levels as the highest concentration of Pb in the experiment (Uzairu et al. 2014; Ayrault et al. 2014).