Unexplained gonad alterations in whitefish (Coregonus spp.) from Lake Thun, Switzerland: levels of persistent organic pollutants in different morphs

Bogdal, C.; Naef, M.; Schmid, P.; Kohler, M.; Zennegg, M.; Bernet, Daniel; Scheringer, M.; Hungerbuhler, K. (2009). Unexplained gonad alterations in whitefish (Coregonus spp.) from Lake Thun, Switzerland: levels of persistent organic pollutants in different morphs. Chemosphere, 74(3), pp. 434-40. Kidlington, UK: Elsevier Science 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2008.09.058

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Since 2000, a surprisingly high number of macroscopical gonad alterations has been reported in whitefish (Coregonus spp.) from Lake Thun, Switzerland. This unique phenomenon is still unexplained and has received much public attention. As one possible trigger for these effects, the presence of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic compounds acting as endocrine disruptors in the lake has been discussed. In this study, concentrations of selected persistent organic pollutants were examined in two morphs of whitefish from Lake Thun and their link to the observed abnormalities was investigated. Analyzed compound classes included polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans, polychlorinated naphthalenes, polybrominated diphenyl ethers and hexabromocyclododecanes. The target substances were identified in all samples and concentrations of the analyzed compounds were highly correlated among each other. These correlations show that the analyzed substances have the same distribution pattern throughout the lake and that uptake, accumulation and elimination processes are similar. Significant differences in contaminant levels within the samples existed between the two analyzed morphs of whitefish, most likely due to different age, food patterns and growth rate. No difference in contaminant levels was observed between fish with abnormal gonads and fish with normal gonads, suggesting no causal link between the investigated lipophilic organohalogen compounds present in fish and the observed gonad abnormalities in whitefish from Lake Thun. A comparison to existing data shows that concentrations in Lake Thun whitefish are at the lower bound of contaminant levels in whitefish from Swiss lakes or from European waters.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


05 Veterinary Medicine > Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathobiology (DIP) > Center for Fish and Wildlife Health (FIWI)

UniBE Contributor:

Bernet, Daniel


600 Technology > 630 Agriculture




Elsevier Science




Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 15:25

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:26

Publisher DOI:


Web of Science ID:



https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/38350 (FactScience: 221204)

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