Crude oil impairs cardiac excitation-contraction coupling in fish

Science. 2014 Feb 14;343(6172):772-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1242747.


Crude oil is known to disrupt cardiac function in fish embryos. Large oil spills, such as the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) disaster that occurred in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, could severely affect fish at impacted spawning sites. The physiological mechanisms underlying such potential cardiotoxic effects remain unclear. Here, we show that crude oil samples collected from the DWH spill prolonged the action potential of isolated cardiomyocytes from juvenile bluefin and yellowfin tunas, through the blocking of the delayed rectifier potassium current (I(Kr)). Crude oil exposure also decreased calcium current (I(Ca)) and calcium cycling, which disrupted excitation-contraction coupling in cardiomyocytes. Our findings demonstrate a cardiotoxic mechanism by which crude oil affects the regulation of cellular excitability, with implications for life-threatening arrhythmias in vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / chemically induced
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / veterinary*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Delayed Rectifier Potassium Channels / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Heart Ventricles / drug effects*
  • Myocardial Contraction / drug effects*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / drug effects
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / physiology
  • Petroleum / toxicity*
  • Petroleum Pollution*
  • Tuna / physiology*
  • Ventricular Function / drug effects


  • Delayed Rectifier Potassium Channels
  • Petroleum
  • Calcium