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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Influence of Metal Pollution on the Immune System A Potential Stressor for Marine Mammals in the North Sea


Marine mammals of the North Sea are loaded with metal pollutants. The environmental exposure induces concentrations bioavailable to immune cells high enough to affect their function. Such an imbalance of the immune system caused by pollutants may play a significant role in the incidence of infectious diseases in marine mammals. Metals influence the function of immunocompetent cells by a variety of mechanisms. Depending on the particular metal, its speciation, concentration and bioavailability, and a number of other factors, a continuous metal exposure will result in an immunosuppression or immunoenhancement effects. Both effects were demonstrated on the cellular level in animals of the North Sea. This article reviews metal concentrations in the North and Baltic Seas particularly in tissues of marine mammals, discusses pollutants effects on health and immune functions, and underlines the still existing problem of animals living in polluted coastal areas.

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