, 20:847 | Cite as

Effect of heavy metal exposure on blood haemoglobin concentration and methemoglobin percentage in Lumbricus terrestris

  • A. Calisi
  • M. G. LionettoEmail author
  • J. C. Sanchez-Hernandez
  • T. Schettino


The earthworm haemoglobin (Hb) is a large extracellular hemoprotein flowing in a closed circulatory system. In spite of the fundamental role of this respiratory pigment in earthworm physiology, little is known about its sensitivity to environmental pollutants. The aim of the present work was to investigate the possible effect of heavy metal (cadmium, copper, mercury) exposure on Hb concentration and oxidation state (methemoglobin formation) in the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris. In addition, the tissue concentration of metallothioneins, a well-known biomarker of heavy metal exposure, was determined as an indicator of metal uptake. The animals were exposed to increasing concentrations of Cd, Cu and Hg utilizing the standard acute toxicity test, “Filter paper test” for 48 h. Exposure to heavy metals (10−5–10−3 M for Cd, 10−4–10−3 M for Hg, and 10−4–10−2 M for Cu) was found to increase haemoglobin concentration in L. terrestris, although the magnitude of such an increase was dependent on the metal. In addition, metal exposure led to the formation of methemoglobin. Compared to other known biological responses to heavy metals, such as metallothionein induction, methemoglobin increase showed a higher sensitivity and a higher percentage variation in exposed organisms, showing to be a possible suitable biomarker of exposure/effect to be included in a multi biomarker strategy in earthworm in soil monitoring assessment.


Earthworms Haemoglobin Heavy metal Lumbricus terrestris Methemoglobin 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Calisi
    • 1
  • M. G. Lionetto
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. C. Sanchez-Hernandez
    • 2
  • T. Schettino
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences and TechnologiesUniversity of SalentoLecceItaly
  2. 2.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of Castilla La ManchaToledoSpain

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