Legacy environmental polychlorinated biphenyl contamination attenuates the acute stress response in a cartilaginous fish, the Round Stingray

Stress. 2019 May;22(3):395-402. doi: 10.1080/10253890.2019.1570125. Epub 2019 Feb 26.


In a population of Round Stingrays (Urobatis halleri) sampled from mainland California (polychlorinated biphenyl [PCB] exposed site, n = 46), relative to a nearby offshore island (reference site, n = 34), we tested the hypothesis that stingrays from the PCB-exposed site would have a compromised stress response. Adult male and pregnant female (pregnancy = matrotrophic histotrophy), stingrays were captured via hook and line at both locations over a breeding season and plasma was sampled either immediately (Baseline, males = 10, females = 31), or after ∼5 min of struggle on the line followed by a 15 min confinement stressor (Stressed, males = 16, females = 23). Biomarkers of the primary stress response (1α-OH-corticosterone) and the secondary response (energy mobilization; glucose, glycogen, and lactate in liver and muscle) were assessed. Females from both sites demonstrated the expected primary stress response of 1α-OH-corticosterone elevation, but the contaminant-exposed males did not. PCB-exposed stingrays, regardless of sex, failed to produce a plasma glucose increase in response to the applied stress, even though the stressor increased liver glucose as expected. This suggests a dysfunction in glucose transport due to PCB exposure. The Round Stingray accumulates lower PCB loads than other, predatory elasmobranchs, and by extension, the stress axis effects could be more severely impacted in those species as well. Lay summary Legacy polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination continues to adversely affect marine life. We show that PCB-exposure interferes with the ability of pregnant female and adult male stingrays to mobilize the energy necessary to respond appropriately to an acute stress like capture. Other cartilaginous fish species, such as sharks, accumulate considerably more PCB as a result of their predatory diet, and are likely to be more adversely impacted.

Keywords: Corticosteroids; PCB exposure; elasmobranch; glucose; impaired stress reactivity; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • California
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Female
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / pharmacology*
  • Skates, Fish*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / pharmacology*


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Corticosterone