The toxicity of the polyaromatic hydrocarbon pyrene to Mytilus edulis and Mytilus galloprovincialis was investigated in experiments conducted in the United Kingdom for M. edulis and in Turkey for M. galloprovincialis. Experimental conditions of temperature and salinity were chosen to be appropriate to the ambient conditions in which the mussels typically live. The effect of different feeding regimes on pyrene bioaccumulation and toxicity was also investigated. Feeding rate and neutral red retention biomarker techniques were used for toxicity assessment. An experiment with M edulis demonstrated that mussels exposed to pyrene accumulated increasing amounts of this compound throughout a 15-day exposure period and that accumulation increased in relation to exposure concentration and with increasing concentration of unicellular algal food material. However, in these experiments, which were protected from UV light, there was no clear relationship between pyrene concentration in tissues and feeding rate. A clear concentration-response relationship was observed between tissue concentration and neutral red retention for days I and 7 of the experiment, but this relationship was lost by day 15, with evidence of the cells recovering. A similar experiment was conducted with M galloprovincialis at a single (high) pyrene concentration in darkness. The feeding rate of the exposed mussels was always lower than the feeding rate of the control mussels, although the difference was insignificant at 7-day exposure. A decreasing trend in health status of the mussels was indicated by the neutral red retention assay results after 7 and 15 days of exposure to pyrene. In a third experiment (with M galloprovincialis), an illuminated algal chemostat system containing pyrene was inserted in the exposure system as the food source for the mussels. Both biomarker results showed conclusively that toxic effects correlated with pyrene bioaccumulation, though there was no clear evidence for light-enhanced toxicity. These experiments showed that experimental conditions such as salinity, temperature and feeding regime and perhaps the species of mussel used may influence whether pyrene is perceived as being a toxic molecule. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.