These studies were supported in part by funds from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act trust fund (Superfund) by an interagency agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, U.S. Public Health Service.
Cupric sulfate is an inorganic salt which is widely used in industry, agriculture, and veterinary medicine. Its applications include use as an algicide in potable waters and as a feed additive and therapeutic agent in swine, sheep, and cattle. Because copper salts are found in human water supplies, toxicity studies of cupric sulfate pentahydrate were conducted in male and female F344/N rats and B6C3F1 mice by the drinking water (2-week studies only) and dosed feed routes (2-week and 13-week studies). Animals were evaluated for hematology, clinical chemistry, urinalysis, reproductive toxicity, tissue metal accumulation, and histopathology.
In the 2-week drinking water studies, groups of five rats and five mice per sex received cupric sulfate at concentrations of 300 to 30,000 ppm for 15 days. One female rat, one male mouse, and three female mice in the 3000 ppm groups and all rats and mice in the 10,000 and 30,000 ppm groups died before the end of the studies. The remaining mice and rats in the 3000 ppm groups gained little or lost weight. Water consumption in the three highest dose groups of both species was reduced by more than 65%. Clinical signs observed in these groups were typical of those seen in moribund animals and were attributed to dehydration. The only gross or microscopic change specifically related to cupric sulfate toxicity was an increase in the size and number of cytoplasmic protein droplets in the epithelium of the renal proximal convoluted tubule in male rats from the 300 and 1000-ppm groups.
In the 2-week feed studies, groups of five rats and five mice per sex were fed diets containing 1000 to 16,000 ppm cupric sulfate. No chemical-related deaths occurred in any dose group. Compared to the controls, rats and mice in the two highest dose groups had reduced body weight gains which were attributed to decreased feed consumption. Hyperplasia with hyperkeratosis of the squamous epithelium on the limiting ridge of the forestomach was seen in rats and mice of each sex; this lesion was more severe in rats than in mice. Inflammation of the liver, periportal to midzonal in distribution, occurred in rats in the 8000 and 16,000 ppm groups. Depletion of hematopoietic cells was evident in rats of each sex in the bone marrow (8000 and 16,000 ppm) and spleen (16,000 ppm). Kidneys of male and female rats in the 4000, 8000, and 16,000 ppm groups had an increased number and size of protein droplets in the epithelia of the renal cortical tubules.
In the 13-week feed studies, groups of 10 rats per sex received diets containing 500 to 8000 ppm cupric sulfate, and groups of 10 mice per sex received diets containing 1000 to 16,000 ppm cupric sulfate for 92 days; estimates of cupric sulfate consumption ranged from 32 to 551 mg/kg per day for rats and 173 to 4157 mg/kg per day for mice. There were no chemical-related deaths in rats or mice, and no clinical signs of cupric sulfate toxicity were recorded. Final mean body weights were lower than those of the controls for animals of both species receiving doses of 4000 ppm cupric sulfate and greater. In mice in the 13-week studies, there was a dose-related decrease in liver weights.
Hematologic, clinical chemistry, and urinalysis evaluations of rats in the 13-week study revealed variable chemical-related changes that were, for the most part, restricted to the 4000 and 8000 ppm groups. Increases in serum alanine aminotransferase and sorbitol dehydrogenase activities in both sexes were indicative of hepatocellular damage, as were increases in 5'-nucleotidase and bile salts in males. Decreases in mean cell volume, hematocrit, and hemoglobin indicated the development of a microcytic anemia, while increases in reticulocyte numbers at the same time points suggested a compensatory response to the anemia by the bone marrow. Increases in urinary glucose and N-acetyl-β-D-glucosaminidase (a lysosomal enzyme) and aspartate aminotransferase (a cytosolic enzyme) were suggestive of renal tubule epithelial damage.
Dose-related increases in copper occurred in all male rat tissues examined (liver, kidney, plasma, and testis). These increases were accompanied by increases in zinc in the liver and kidney. Plasma calcium was significantly reduced in the 4000 and 8000 ppm groups, and there was a trend toward reductions in calcium in the kidney and testis as well. In the 8000 ppm group, plasma magnesium was significantly increased relative to the controls.
Rats in the three highest dose groups had hyperplasia and hyperkeratosis of the forestomach, inflammation of the liver, and increases in the number and size of protein droplets in the epithelial cytoplasm and the lumina of the proximal convoluted tubules. These effects were similar to those seen in the 2-week feed study, and the incidence and severity of these lesions were dose related. Many of the droplets in male rat kidneys were large and had irregular crystalline shapes. These droplets stained strongly positive for protein but were negative by iron, PAS, and acid-fast (lipofuscin) staining methods. α-2-Microglobulin was present in the droplets of male rats, but there was no dose-related, qualitative difference in the content of this protein. In the 4000 and 8000 ppm groups, copper was distributed in a periportal to midzonal pattern in the liver and was restricted to the cytoplasm of the proximal convoluted tubule epithelium in the kidney. Copper was present in some, but not all, of the protein droplets. Transmission electron microscopy of the livers of rats of each sex revealed increases in the number of secondary lysosomes in hepatocytes in the periportal area.
In mice of each sex receiving 4000 ppm cupric sulfate and higher in the 13-week study, there was a dose-related increase in hyperplasia with hyperkeratosis of the squamous mucosa on the limiting ridge of the forestomach. Minimal positive staining for copper was present in the liver and was limited to high-dose (16,000 ppm) male and female mice.
Cupric sulfate produced no adverse effects on any of the reproductive parameters measured in rats or mice of either sex.
In summary, administration of cupric sulfate to rats in feed or drinking water resulted in significant gastric changes and hepatic and renal damage. The primary lesion in rats was an increase in the size and number of proteinaceous droplets in the epithelial cytoplasm and lumen of the proximal convoluted tubule. For rats in the 13-week study, the no-observed-adverse-effect level (NOAEL) for evidence of histologic injury to the kidney was 1000 ppm for males and 500 ppm for females, while the NOAEL for liver inflammation was 1000 ppm for males and 2000 ppm for females. Hyperplasia with hyperkeratosis of the epithelium on the limiting ridge separating the forestomach from the glandular stomach was also seen in rats of each sex, and the NOAEL for this change was 1000-ppm cupric sulfate in the feed. Additionally, clinical pathology alterations noted in the 13-week study, along with histologic changes in bone marrow noted in the 2-week feed study, were indicative of a microcytic anemia with a compensatory bone marrow response. Mice appeared to be much more resistant to the toxic effects of cupric sulfate than rats. The primary target tissue in mice was the epithelium of the limiting ridge of the forestomach. The NOAEL for the hyperplasia and hyperkeratosis seen at this site in mice was 2000-ppm cupric sulfate in the feed.