Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur when excess nutrients allow dinoflagellates to reproduce in large numbers. Marine animals are affected by blooms when algal toxins are ingested or inhaled. In the Gulf of Mexico, near annual blooms of Karenia brevis release a suite of compounds (brevetoxins) that cause sea turtle morbidity and mortality. The primary treatment at rehabilitation facilities for brevetoxin-exposed sea turtles is supportive care, and it has been difficult to design alternative treatment strategies without an understanding of the effects of brevetoxins in turtles in vivo. Previous studies using the freshwater turtle as a model species showed that brevetoxin-3 impacts the nervous and muscular systems, and is detoxified and eliminated primarily through the liver, bile, and feces. In this study, freshwater turtles (Trachemys scripta) were exposed to brevetoxin (PbTx-3) intratracheally at doses causing clear systemic effects, and treatment strategies aimed at reducing the postexposure neurological and muscular deficits were tested. Brevetoxin-exposed T. scripta displayed the same behaviors as animals admitted to rehabilitation centers for toxin exposure, ranging from muscle twitching and incoordination to paralysis and unresponsiveness. Two treatment regimes were tested: cholestyramine, a bile acid sequestrant; and an intravenous lipid emulsion treatment (Intralipidt) that provides an expanded circulating lipid volume. Cholestyramine was administered orally 1 hr and 6 hr post PbTx-3 exposure, but this regime failed to increase toxin clearance. Animals treated with Intralipid (100 mg/kg) 30 min after PbTx-3 exposure had greatly reduced symptoms of brevetoxicosis within the first 2 hr compared with animals that did not receive the treatment, and appeared fully recovered within 24 hr compared with toxin-exposed control animals that did not receive Intralipid. The results strongly suggest that Intralipid treatment for lipophilic toxins such as PbTx-3 has the potential to reduce morbidity and mortality in HAB-exposed sea turtles.
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