Golden perch (Macquaria ambigua) is a freshwater game-fish native to central and southeast Australia. Larvae of this fish species were used in two different types of experiments to evaluate the effects of short-term exposures (up to 6 days) to aqueous gold, 5 nm gold nanoparticles (AuNPs), or 50 nm AuNPs. Relative to the control, increased gold concentrations corresponded with yolk-sac edema (swelling). Larvae exposed to 50 μM of 5 nm AuNPs had yolk-sacs that were ~1.5 times larger resulting in the appearance of bent notochords. After two days of exposure, 100% mortality was observed. Total mortalities were <25% in the other larvae–gold systems, suggesting that these larvae can quickly adapt to the presence of gold. In terms of an oxidative stress response, the larvae from all systems did not express high enzymatic activity. The state of the gold determined how much could be taken up (or immobilised) by a larva. Aqueous gold and 5 nm AuNPs easily pass through cells; therefore, larvae exposed to these forms of gold contained the highest concentrations. Scanning electron microscopy confirmed that cells comprising the epithelium and fins contained AuNPs. Aqueous gold was reduced to nanometre-scale particles within cells. Comparatively, 5 nm AuNPs appeared to be aggregated within cells forming clusters hundreds of nanometres in size. On the contrary, 50 nm AuNPs were not observed within cells but were detected within larvae by (single particle) inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy, suggesting that these AuNPs were probably taken up through the mouth or gills. The results of the present study demonstrate that exposure to AuNPs had adverse effects on developing golden perch larvae. Additionally, these effects were dependent on the size of the AuNPs.

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