Antidepressants found in fish brains in Great Lakes region

August 31, 2017 by Charlotte Hsu

Human antidepressants are building up in the brains of bass, walleye and several other fish common to the Great Lakes region, scientists say.

In a new study, researchers detected high concentrations of these drugs and their metabolized remnants in the tissue of 10 species found in the Niagara River.

This vital conduit connects two of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, via Niagara Falls. The discovery of antidepressants in aquatic life in the river raises serious environmental concerns, says lead scientist Diana Aga, PhD, the Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences.

"These active ingredients from antidepressants, which are coming out from plants, are accumulating in fish brains," Aga says. "It is a threat to biodiversity, and we should be very concerned.

"These drugs could affect fish behavior. We didn't look at behavior in our study, but other research teams have shown that antidepressants can affect the feeding behavior of fish or their survival instincts. Some fish won't acknowledge the presence of predators as much."

If changes like these occur in the wild, they have the potential to disrupt the delicate balance between species that helps to keep the ecosystem stable, says study co-author Randolph Singh, PhD, a recent UB graduate from Aga's lab.

"The levels of antidepressants found do not pose a danger to humans who eat the fish, especially in the U.S., where most people do not eat organs like the brain," Singh says. "However, the risk that the drugs pose to biodiversity is real, and scientists are just beginning to understand what the consequences might be."

The research team included other scientists from UB, Ramkhamhaeng University and Khon Kaen University, both in Thailand, and SUNY Buffalo State. The study was published on Aug. 16 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

A dangerous cocktail of antidepressants in the water

Aga has spent her career developing techniques for detecting contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and endocrine disrupters in the environment.

This is a field of growing concern, especially as the use of such chemicals expands. The percentage of Americans taking antidepressants, for instance, rose 65 percent between 1999-2002 and 2011-14, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Wastewater treatment facilities have failed to keep pace with this growth, typically ignoring these drugs, which are then released into the environment, Aga says.

Her new study looked for a variety of pharmaceutical and personal care product chemicals in the organs and muscles of 10 fish species: smallmouth , largemouth bass, rudd, rock bass, white bass, white perch, walleye, bowfin, steelhead and yellow perch.

Antidepressants stood out as a major problem: These drugs or their metabolites were found in the brains of every the scientists studied.

The highest concentration of a single compound was found in a rock bass, which had about 400 nanograms of norsertraline—a metabolite of sertraline, the in Zoloft—per gram of brain tissue. This was in addition to a cocktail of other compounds found in the same fish, including citalopram, the active ingredient in Celexa, and norfluoxetine, a metabolite of the active ingredient in Prozac and Sarafem.

More than half of the fish brain samples had norsertraline levels of 100 nanograms per gram or higher. In addition, like the rock bass, many of the fish had a medley of antidepressant drugs and metabolites in their brains.

Evidence that antidepressants can change fish behavior generally comes from laboratory studies that expose the animals to higher concentrations of drugs than what is found in the Niagara River. But the findings of the new study are still worrisome: The antidepressants that Aga's team detected in fish brains had accumulated over time, often reaching concentrations that were several times higher than the levels in the river.

In the brains of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, white bass and walleye, sertraline was found at levels that were estimated to be 20 or more times higher than levels in river water. Levels of norsertraline, the 's breakdown product, were even greater, reaching concentrations that were often hundreds of times higher than that found in the river.

Scientists have not done enough research yet to understand what amount of poses a risk to animals, or how multiple drugs might interact synergistically to influence behavior, Aga says.

Wastewater treatment is behind the times

The study raises concerns regarding , whose operations have not kept up with the times, says Aga, a member of the UB RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water) Institute.

In general, wastewater treatment focuses narrowly on killing disease-causing bacteria and on extracting solid matter such as human excrement. Antidepressants, which are found in the urine of people who use the drugs, are largely ignored, along with other chemicals of concern that have become commonplace, Aga says.

"These plants are focused on removing nitrogen, phosphorus, and dissolved organic carbon but there are so many other chemicals that are not prioritized that impact our environment," she says. "As a result, wildlife is exposed to all of these chemicals. Fish are receiving this cocktail of drugs 24 hours a day, and we are now finding these drugs in their brains."

The problem is exacerbated, Singh says, by sewage overflows that funnel large quantities of untreated water into rivers and lakes. In August, for example, The Buffalo News reported that since May of 2017, a half billion gallons of combined sewage and storm water had flowed into local waterways, including the Niagara River.

Explore further: Climate change, species invasions harming popular native fish in Ontario lakes

More information: Prapha Arnnok et al. Selective Uptake and Bioaccumulation of Antidepressants in Fish from Effluent-Impacted Niagara River, Environmental Science & Technology (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b02912

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23 comments

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bschott
not rated yet Aug 31, 2017
Big Pharma...rock on.
mikesemail2000-mail
5 / 5 (5) Aug 31, 2017
In a related story, suicide rates of rock bass and yellow perch have plummeted.
Uncle Al
not rated yet Aug 31, 2017
We must extend this better outlook on life to all wild creatures, No carnivore shall suffer guilt, no herbivore fear, no grasshopper want, no snail unrequited love. All God's creatures shall be tapeworms in the gut of a prozactivated society. Impotence is beautiful!

www(.)youtube(.)com/watch?v=mey1dXTLdeE
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Aug 31, 2017
In a related story, suicide rates of rock bass and yellow perch have plummeted.

Which makes me wonder...
Wouldn't the predators be happier and easier going (less aggressive), too?
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2017
This should make catch and release easier for them to tolerate so ok.
krundoloss
5 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2017
Why not have a Drug Recycling processor in your toilet. You could buy the drug once and just keep recycling it, extracted from your own urine. Save the environment and lower your drug costs, LOL. Of course they could do this at the water treatment plant and sell the drug back to the drug companies. But in the end it all comes back to $$
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2017
The First Law of Ecology is: nothing ever goes away.

This law has been proven over so many times that anyone who ignores it is obviously a stupid.
yosifcuervo
4 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2017
I would have liked if this article included a normal human level of substances in the brain for comparison (for a human who is actively taking the drug). Perhaps the levels between a human a fish wouldn't correlate well, but as it stands I have no idea if the concentration found in the fish brain is even close to what would affect a human.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2017
@yosif, the article states the levels in the water are subclinical for humans, but also states that previous work has shown that these substances do affect fish behavior. Given what the study showed, I think it's reasonable to conclude that the drugs can affect the ecosystem and that we have yet another infrastructure problem nobody wants to pay to fix, particularly not sewage treatment.

I don't think that human levels are relevant; the questions are, what levels induce behavior changes in fish, what are the detected levels compared to these, and what multi-substance synergies might occur. All of this is covered in the article, or at least mentioned where no data exist in order to point out areas that need further research.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Sep 02, 2017
Why not have a Drug Recycling processor in your toilet. You could buy the drug once and just keep recycling it, extracted from your own urine
Yeah you don't buy oxycodone you only rent it
Turgent
not rated yet Sep 02, 2017
"Human antidepressants are building up in the brains [fish]" thus there is not a fish mechanism to breakdown these chemicals? Doesn't the lower temperature of cold blooded fish significantly reduce the effectivity of the depressants?

So anti-depressants have a chemical half-life that is so long that it can accumulate in marine vertebrate? That needs to be addressed in study. Big Pharma needs to give us the decay rate of such drugs.

As the water flows through the great lakes in accumulates going from Superior, Huron, Erie, Ontario. Superior has no pollutants. Why wasn't it used as a control for this study?

Hopefully they will be happy fish.

I'll check for myself with daily dose 5 mg of Prozac in my 30 gal aquarium.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Sep 03, 2017
Big Pharma needs to give us the decay rate of such drugs
-What makes you think that 'decay rates' of common drugs arent readily available or that 'Big Pharma' (cue theremin) is keeping them secret?
Why wasn't it used as a control for this study?
Explain how and when you read this study and came to this conclusion. Or stop pretending you know wtf youre talking about.
Turgent
not rated yet Sep 04, 2017
@TheGhostofOtto1923

I hope I won't have to suffer your character assassination in responding.

"Explain how and when you read this study and came to this conclusion. Or stop pretending you know wtf youre talking about."

""Why wasn't it used as a control for this study?""

Note this was a question!!

Last thing I'm going to explain to you is my basis for understanding. Guess I could say I'm not as stupid as you in the you can't even understand the question.

Let's see if you go into attack mod.
Turgent
not rated yet Sep 04, 2017
Cont.

@TheGhostofOtto1923

If you remembered any high school or college science you would have picked up that

A=A(subscript 0)e^kt is one of the key equations

A(subscript 0)=initial amount

T = time

A = amount at t or time

e=Euler's number or 2.7182818284590452353602874713527

k=some constant

What happens when k>0, k=0, and k<0

There are two places where this equation should be addressed in this issue. Figure out where?

What if k is a function of x or k=f(x)? Specifically is there a non-linear function to saturation?

More ons you like make me feel like a genius.

"What makes you think that 'decay rates' of common drugs arent readily available or that 'Big Pharma' (cue theremin) is keeping them secret?"

This may be available behind the paywall in the Merck Manual; however, it is only applicable to human beings. Cold blooded fish have very different metabolisms!!!

How are you so absence of even common sense?

Turgent
not rated yet Sep 04, 2017
@TheGhostofOtto1923

Inherent in the Phys.Org report on "Selective Uptake and Bioaccumulation of Antidepressants in Fish from Effluent-Impacted Niagara River". The words "uptake" and "accumulation" in the title should have given it away.

You might learn something if you figure it out yourself. It ain't hard.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Sep 04, 2017
@Turbid doesn't want to do any research. It might interfere with its #godbothering.
Turgent
not rated yet Sep 04, 2017
@ Da Schnieb

WTF "doesn't want to do any research" and "#godbothering" mean?

What research would you suggest?

Is there something wrong with discussing the simple science and the math associated with it. Are you picking up the thread?

You seem know what a D.E. is but behave as one of the ignorant. How can this be? Or is it all a hypocritical fake?

WTF are you even here for?
Da Schneib
not rated yet Sep 04, 2017
@Turbid, everything you've posted here has been devoid of any evidence to support your claims.

Your latest post is no different.

Do the research to provide evidence, or admit (whether actively or tacitly) that you have nothing to oppose to opinions backed by evidence but meaningless speculation.

jebus doesn't do biochemistry. Maybe you didn't notice.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Sep 04, 2017
This may be available behind the paywall in the Merck Manual; however, it is only applicable to human beings. Cold blooded fish have very different metabolisms!!!
No the question was, what make you think the chemistry of common drugs isn't readily available, and very familiar, to drug researchers everywhere? Next question: why do you think they patent drugs? Next question: why so much blather to admit you didnt read the actual paper?
Etc
jebus doesn't do biochemistry
jebus IS biochemistry.
rrrander
not rated yet Sep 05, 2017
Oh my God! Those poor fish will start acting like neurotic urban liberals!!
Turgent
not rated yet Sep 05, 2017
@TheGhostofOtto1923

A civil response. Nice

"what make you think the chemistry of common drugs isn't readily available, and very familiar, to drug researchers everywhere?" Nothing I expect the trade practice chemical data is. Pharma only releases the absolute minimum required by the FDA and Pharma shysters. Decay rates associated with Great Lakes fresh water would not be part of such data set. The researchers need determine it.

"why do you think they patent drugs?" For a legal monopoly. Patents only requires Pharma to identifying the molecule, its purpose, and uniqueness. How is this relevant? FDA and Patent requirements are 2 very different things.

"why so much blather to admit you didn't read the actual paper?" No blather provided just discussion. Didn't think it was necessary as it was self-evident that it is not available. Is there an issue with speaking to the article. The points I brought up were fully appropriate to the article. right???
Turgent
5 / 5 (1) Sep 05, 2017
@ Da Schnieb

So you neither capable of jointing a technical discussion or adding anything of value regarding a Phys.Org article. You sound like your more on buddy CS, to ignorant to say anything else other than provide citations, science if evidence, and I'm to ignorant to speak to science myself. So STFU and find something productive to do.

Perhaps I got it right "a hypocritical fake."
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Sep 05, 2017
A civil response. Nice
Actually I was making fun of you. Didnt catch it?
Pharma only releases the absolute minimum required by the FDA and Pharma shysters
You have no idea what 'pharma' does or doesnt do. But you enjoy pretending dont you?
For a legal monopoly
No. If you knew anything about 'pharma' at all, you would know its because drugs are so easy to copy.
No blather provided just discussion
This is blather:
A=A(subscript 0)e^kt is one of the key equations

A(subscript 0)=initial amount

T = time

A = amount at t or time

e=Euler's blah
-Yes? No?
fully appropriate to the article. right???
-Only if pretending is the same thing as not pretending. Pretending is always relevant... in your own mind.

Im struggling to be polite.

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