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Effects of chronic exposure to 12{per thousand} saltwater on the endocrine physiology of juvenile American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

P. C. Faulkner, M. L. Burleson, L. Simonitis, C. Marshall, D. Hala, and L. H. Petersen

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis, Linnaeus) habitats are prone to saltwater intrusion following major storms, hurricanes or droughts. Anthropogenic impacts affecting hydrology of freshwater systems may exacerbate saltwater intrusion into freshwater habitats. The endocrine system of alligators is susceptible to changes in the environment but it is currently not known how the crocodilian physiological system responds to environmental stressors such as salinity. Juvenile alligators were exposed to 12 saltwater for 5 weeks to determine effects of chronic exposure to saline environments. Following 5 weeks, plasma levels of hormones (e.g., progesterone, testosterone, estradiol, corticosterone, aldosterone, angiotensin II) were quantified using LC-MS/MS. Compared to freshwater kept subjects, saltwater exposed alligators had significantly elevated plasma levels of corticosterone, 11-deoxycortisol, 17α-hydroxyprogesterone, testosterone, 17β-estradiol, estrone and estriol while pregnenolone and angiotensin II (ANG II) were significantly depressed and aldosterone (ALDO) levels were unchanged (slightly depressed). However, saltwater exposure did not affect gene expression of renal mineralo- and glucorticoid (MR, GR) and angiotensin type 1 (AT-1) receptors or morphology of lingual glands. On the other hand, saltwater exposure significantly reduced plasma glucose concentrations whereas parameters diagnostic of perturbed liver function (enzymes AST, ALT) and kidney function (creatinine, creatine kinase) were significantly elevated. Except for plasma potassium levels (K+), plasma ions Na+ and Cl were significantly elevated in saltwater alligators. Overall, this study demonstrated significant endocrine and physiological effects in juvenile alligators chronically exposed to a saline environment. Results provide novel insights into the effects of a natural environmental stressor (salinity) on renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system and steroidogenesis of alligators.

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