B-esterases are serine hydrolases composed of cholinesterases, including acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), and carboxylesterase (CbE). These esterases, found in blood plasma, are inhibited by organophosphorus (OP) and carbamate (CB) insecticides and can be used as nondestructive biomarkers of exposure to anticholinesterase insecticides. Furthermore, B-esterases are involved in detoxification of these insecticides. In order to establish the level of these enzymes and to have reference values for their normal activities, total plasma cholinesterase (ChE), AChE and BChE activities, and plasma CbE activity were determined in 729 European raptors representing 20 species, four families, and two orders. The diurnal families of the Falconiforme order were represented by Accipitridae and Falconidae and the nocturnal families of the Strigiforme order by Tytonidae and Strigidae. Intraspecies differences in cholinesterase activities according to sex and/or age were investigated in buzzards (Buteo buteo), sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus), kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), barn owls (Tyto alba), and tawny owls (Strix aluco).Sex-related differences affecting ChE and AChE activities were observed in young kestrels (2–3-mo-old) and age-related differences in kestrels (ChE and AChE), sparrowhawks (AChE), and tawny owls (ChE, AChE, and BChE). The interspecies analysis yielded a negative correlation between ChE activity and body mass taking into account the relative contribution of AChE and BChE to ChE activity, with the exception of the honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus). The lowest ChE activities were found in the two largest species, Bonelli's eagle (Hieraaëtus fasciatus) and Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) belonging to the Accipitridae family. The highest ChE activities were found in the relatively small species belonging to the Tytonidae and Strigidae families and in honey buzzard of the Accipitridae family. Species of the Accipitridae, Tytonidae, and Strigidae families were characterized by a BChE contribution that dominated the total ChE activity, while in the species of the Falconidae family, AChE activity dominated. With the exception of the barn owl, CbE activity (eserine-insensitive α-naphthyl acetate esterase [α-NAE] activity) in all species was almost absent or very low. The values obtained in this study for ChE, AChE, and BChE activities and the AChE:BChE ratios for buzzard, kestrel, barn owl, and tawny owl provide a good estimate of the normal values in free-living individuals of these European species. They can be used as a baseline to evaluate the effect of anticholinesterase insecticides in the field.
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Vol. 41 • No. 1