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Table 3 Biomarkers used in the integrated monitoring approach proposed by ICES and the Regional Seas Conventions

From: The European technical report on aquatic effect-based monitoring tools under the water framework directive

Biomarker Description Responds to
EROD activity Biotransformation enzyme induced by planar hydrocarbon PCBs, PAHs and dioxin-like compounds
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity Enzyme implicated in nervous transmission Organophosphates, carbamates and similar molecules
Vitellogenin (VTG) in male fish A precursor of egg yolk, normally synthesized by female fish estrogenic endocrine disrupting compounds
Metallothionein (MT) Metal scavenger implicated in protection against oxidative stress Heavy metals and inducer of oxidative stress
Amino-levulinic acid deshydratase (ALAD) Enzyme implicated in amino-acid metabolism Lead exposure
Lysosomal stability General health, lysosomes play a key role in liver injury caused by various xenobiotics Several classes of pollutants, including PAH, inducer of oxidative stress, metals and organochlorines
DNA adducts Alteration of DNA structure able to disturb DNA function Genotoxic compounds including PAHs and other synthetic organic compounds
Imposex biomarkers (e.g. VDSI) in molluscs Imposition of male sex characteristics on female molluscs TBT
PAH bile metabolites PAH metabolites in bile/urine represent the final stage of the biotransformation process Indirect indicator of PAH exposure
Liver histopathology General indication about liver damage but can be diagnostic depending on the type of lesion PAHs
Macroscopic liver neoplasms Visible fish liver tumours Cancer inducing substances; PAHs
Externally visible fish diseases Overall organism health External investigations of fish, significant changes indicate chronic stress Several classes of pollutants and pathogens
Intersex in fish Presence of ovarian tissue in male fish gonads compromising reproductive capacity estrogenic endocrine disrupting compounds
Micronucleus Damage to genetic material of organisms; could affect their health and potentially also their offspring. Substances causing chromosomal aberrations (clastogens)
Amphipod/fish embryo alterations Embryo malformations (viviparous organisms) Overall organism health; strong correlation observed between malformed embryos and concentrations of metals and organic compounds
Stress proteins Early stage effects, including oxidative stress Responds to many types of stress factors
Benthic diatom malformations Malformations; overall organism health Significant response to metals and several pesticides, but less to other priority substances
Comet assay Sensitive tool to detect genetic damage Substances causing DNA strand breaks
Mussel histopathology (gametogenesis) Histological studies of, e.g. digestive gland and tube Many groups of substances, including PAHs, PCBs and heavy metals
Stress on stress Survival in air Many groups of substances, including crude oil, copper ions and PCBs
Scope for Growth Measures alterations in the energy available for growth and reproduction. Many groups of substances, including di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), aromatics, pentachlorophenol (PCP), copper, TBT and dichlorvos