Environmental Pollution (2019)

DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2019.01.079


Harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in the North and Baltic Seas are exposed to anthropogenic influences including acoustic stress and environmental contaminants. In order to evaluate immune responses in healthy and diseased harbor porpoise cells, cytokine expression analyses and lymphocyte proliferation assays, together with toxicological analyses were performed in stranded and bycaught animals as well as in animals kept in permanent human care. Severely diseased harbor porpoises showed a reduced proliferative capacity of peripheral blood lymphocytes together with diminished transcription of transforming growth factor-β and tumor necrosis factor-α compared to healthy controls. Toxicological analyses revealed accumulation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in harbor porpoise blood samples. Correlation analyses between blood organochlorine levels and immune parameters revealed no direct effects of xenobiotics upon lymphocyte proliferation or cytokine transcription, respectively. Results reveal an impaired function of peripheral blood leukocytes in severely diseased harbor porpoises, indicating immune exhaustion and increased disease susceptibility.