Many aquatic organisms are resistant to environmental pollutants, probably because their inherent multi-drug-resistant protein extrusion pump (pgp) can be co-opted to handle man-made pollutants. This mechanism of multixenobiotic resistance is similar to the mechanism of multidrug resistance exhibited in chemotherapy-resistant human tumor cells. In the present study, a variety of techniques were used to characterize this toxin defense system in killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) hepatocytes. The cellular localization and activity of the putative drug efflux system were evaluated. In addition, in vitro and in vivo studies were used to examine the range of expression of this putative drug transporter in the presence of environmental and chemotherapeutic toxins. The broad range of pgp expression generally observed in transformed mammalian cells was found in normal cells of our teleost model. Our findings suggest that the expression of the pgp gene in the killifish could be an excellent indicator of toxin levels or stressors in the environment.

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