First evidence of altered vitellogenin-like protein levels in clam Tapes philippinarum and in cockle Cerastoderma glaucum from the Lagoon of Venice.
Possible xenoestrogenic effects were investigated, for the first time, in two bivalve species from the Lagoon of Venice (Italy): the clam Tapes philippinarum and the cockle Cerastoderma glaucum. Bivalves were collected far from their reproductive phase at the very early stage of gametogenesis (January), and in the pre-spawning period (June) in six sites. Vitellogenin (Vg)-like proteins (a biomarker of exposure to estrogenic compounds) were measured by the alkali-labile phosphate method (ALP), in both haemolymph and digestive gland from males and females (when it was possible to distinguish sex by microscopic observation of gonadal tissue). Haemolymph calcium concentrations (a parameter considered closely related to the presence of Vg-like proteins) and the bivalve condition index (CI) were also measured. In both seasons, bivalves collected at Campalto (near a sewage treatment plant) and Marghera (a highly contaminated area) had higher Vg-like protein levels, particularly in haemolymph, than animals from the other sampling sites. Interestingly, CI had high values in these polluted sites. In June only, Vg-like proteins and Ca2+ levels in haemolymph exhibited similar trends in both bivalve species at most sampling sites. The responsiveness of bivalves to environmental xenoestrogens was higher in June, allowing better discrimination among sites. The present study demonstrates that animals from highly polluted areas have increased Vg-like protein levels. As endocrine disruption due to exposure to estrogenic compounds may cause fertility reduction, alterations in the sex ratio, and a decrease in reproductive rate, a condition of potential risk for bivalve populations in estuarine areas is highlighted