, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 93–101 | Cite as

Relationships among mercury, selenium, and neurochemical parameters in common loons (Gavia immer) and bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

  • A. M. ScheuhammerEmail author
  • N. Basu
  • N. M. Burgess
  • J. E. Elliott
  • G. D. Campbell
  • M. Wayland
  • L. Champoux
  • J. Rodrigue


Fish-eating birds can be exposed to levels of dietary methylmercury (MeHg) known or suspected to adversely affect normal behavior and reproduction, but little is known regarding Hg’s subtle effects on the avian brain. In the current study, we explored relationships among Hg, Se, and neurochemical receptors and enzymes in two fish-eating birds—common loons (Gavia immer) and bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). In liver, both species demonstrated a wide range of total Hg (THg) concentrations, substantial demethylation of MeHg, and a co-accumulation of Hg and Se. In liver, there were molar excesses of Se over Hg up to about 50–60 μg/g THg, above which there was an approximate 1:1 molar ratio of Hg:Se in both species. However, in brain, bald eagles displayed a greater apparent ability to demethylate MeHg than common loons. There were molar excesses of Se over Hg in brains of bald eagles across the full range of THg concentrations, whereas common loons often had extreme molar excesses of Hg in their brains, with a higher proportion of THg remaining as MeHg compared with eagles. There were significant positive correlations between brain THg and muscarinic cholinergic receptor concentrations in both species studied; whereas significant negative correlations were observed between N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptor levels and brain Hg concentration. There were no significant correlations between brain Se and neurochemical receptors or enzymes (cholinesterase and monoamine oxidase) in either species. Our findings suggest that there are significant differences between common loons and bald eagles with respect to cerebral metabolism and toxicodynamics of MeHg and Se. These interspecies differences may influence relative susceptibility to MeHg toxicity; however, neurochemical responses to Hg in both species were similar.


Mercury Methylmercury Selenium Loon Eagle Neurochemistry 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. M. Scheuhammer
    • 1
    Email author
  • N. Basu
    • 1
  • N. M. Burgess
    • 2
  • J. E. Elliott
    • 3
  • G. D. Campbell
    • 4
  • M. Wayland
    • 5
  • L. Champoux
    • 6
  • J. Rodrigue
    • 6
  1. 1.National Wildlife Research CentreEnvironment CanadaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Environment Canada, Atlantic RegionMount PearlCanada
  3. 3.Environment Canada, Pacific-Yukon RegionDeltaCanada
  4. 4.Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health NetworkUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  5. 5.Environment Canada, Prairie & Northern RegionSaskatoonCanada
  6. 6.Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife ServiceSainte-FoyCanada

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