Immediate biomarker responses of two high-latitude populations of the blue mussel Mytilus edulis to benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P) were evaluated. Mussels collected from a clean and a polluted site in southwest Iceland were exposed to the nominal dose of 100 μg B[a]P L- l for 3 h, after 4 days of acclimatization in clean seawater. To test the sensitivity to the toxicant and immediate biological responses, the following biomarkers were used: DNA single strand breaks, heart rate and feeding rate. All the biomarkers revealed differences between the study sites. Irrespective of the origin of the organisms, the short time exposure to the high B[a]P concentration did not induce DNA single strand breaks or significantly affect the feeding rate. However, the heart rate results showed significantly different responses. The mussels from the polluted site (Reykjavík harbour) increased their heart rate when exposed to B[a]P, while no difference was observed between the heart rate values of the individuals from the clean site (Hvassahraun). The mussels seem to sense the pollutant they have been previously exposed to, and their acute response indicates physiological adaptation to the polluted environment. The results indicate limited sensitivity and temporal predictivity, i.e. transient measurable changes of these biomarkers, as well as showing that the background of the organisms should be considered when evaluating short-term biomarker responses to contaminants.