The effects of sublethal waterborne Zn2+ (150 micrograms l-1 = 2.3 mumol-1) on the kinetics of unidirectional Ca2+ influx were studied in juvenile freshwater rainbow trout during chronic exposure (60 days) at a water [Ca2+] of 1.0 mmol l-1. An unexposed group held under identical conditions served as control. The presence of Zn2+ in the water increased the apparent Km for Ca2+ influx by up to 300% with only a small inhibitory effect (35% at most) on the maximum rate of uptake (Jmax). These results, in combination with earlier data showing that Ca2+ competitively inhibits Zn2+ uptake, suggest that Zn2+ and Ca2+ compete for the same uptake sites. Acute withdrawal of Zn2+ after 3h of exposure resulted in a 23-fold reduction in Km for Ca2+, but a persistent small depression of Jmax. During prolonged exposure to Zn2+, the apparent Km for Ca2+ remained greatly elevated and Jmax remained slightly depressed. The actual Ca2+ influx in hard water ([Ca2+] = 1.0 mmol l-1) decreased marginally and paralleled the small changes in Jmax. The increases in apparent Km had a negligible influence on the actual Ca2+ influx because Km values (38–230 mumol l-1), even when elevated by Zn2+, remained below the water [Ca2+] (1000 mumol l-1). Rainbow trout exposed to Zn2+ exhibited a slower rate of protein synthesis in the gills (measured on day 23) and an increased tolerance to Zn2+ challenge (measured on both days 27 and 50). Unidirectional Zn2+ influx, measured at the end of the exposure period, was significantly reduced in the Zn2+-exposed fish. There were no changes in hepatic or branchial Zn2+, Cu2+ or metallothionein concentrations. We hypothesize that, during exposure to sublethal [Zn2+] in hard water, the fish may change the Km for a mutual Ca2+/Zn2+ carrier so as to reduce markedly Zn2+ influx without greatly altering Ca2+ influx. This reduced Zn2+ influx, rather than metallothionein induction, may be the basis of adaptation to elevated concentrations of waterborne Zn2+.

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