Validation of immunotoxicology techniques in passerine chicks exposed to Oil Sands tailings water

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 1999 Sep;44(1):105-12. doi: 10.1006/eesa.1999.1806.


Avian species, through their trophic relationships, may represent ideal indicators for assessing environmental health. In this study several assays of immune function in young passerines are validated and compared. From 6 to 10 days of age, zebra finch nestlings (Taeniopygia guttata) were given daily oral doses of Oil Sands tailings water (CT), an immunosuppressant dexamethasone, or phosphate-buffered saline. At 9-10 days of age, a phytohemagglutinin (PHA) skin test of immune function was conducted; at 11 days of age, five chicks from each group were euthanized for gross and histopathologic examination of immune system organs. The remaining birds were vaccinated with sheep red blood cells (srbc) to evaluate antibody-mediated immunity. The main findings were that in 10-day-old nestlings, T lymphocytes were sensitive to PHA stimulation, while B lymphocytes were unable to respond to srbc; that hematocrit was approximately 30% lower than in mature birds; that precision of leucocrit determination was heavily technique-dependent; that endogenous steroids increased the total leucocrit, while exogenous steroids increased heterophil and decreased lymphocyte counts, thus increasing H:L; that dexamethasone exposure temporarily reduced growth rate; that CT exposure stimulated germinal cell development in the bursa of Fabricius; and that dexamethazone and CT exposure were associated with decreased splenic white pulp formation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology*
  • Hematocrit
  • Hydrocarbons / adverse effects
  • Hydrocarbons / pharmacology*
  • Immunity, Cellular / drug effects*
  • Mining
  • Phytohemagglutinins / pharmacology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Songbirds / immunology*
  • Spleen / drug effects
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / adverse effects
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / pharmacology*


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Dexamethasone