Embryo/larval toxicity and transcriptional effects in zebrafish (Danio rerio) exposed to endocrine active riverbed sediments

Luigi Viganò, Nadia Casatta, Anna Farkas, Giuseppe Mascolo, Claudio Roscioli, Fabrizio Stefani, Matteo Vitelli, Fabio Olivo, Laura Clerici, Pasquale Robles, Pierluisa Dellavedova

Research output: Article


Sediment toxicity plays a fundamental role in the health of inland fish communities; however, the assessment of the hazard potential of contaminated sediments is not a common objective in environmental diagnostics or remediation. This study examined the potential of transcriptional endpoints investigated in zebrafish (Danio rerio) exposed to riverbed sediments in ecotoxicity testing. Embryo-larval 10-day tests were conducted on sediment samples collected from five sites (one upstream and four downstream of the city of Milan) along a polluted tributary of the Po River, the Lambro River. Sediment chemistry showed a progressive downstream deterioration in river quality, so that the final sampling site showed up to eight times higher concentrations of, for example, triclosan, galaxolide, PAH, PCB, BPA, Ni, and Pb, compared with the uppermost site. The embryo/larval tests showed widespread toxicity although the middle river sections evidenced worse effects, as evidenced by delayed embryo development, hatching rate, larval survival, and growth. At the mRNA transcript level, the genes encoding biotransformation enzymes (cyp1a, gst, ugt) showed increasing upregulations after exposure to sediment from further downstream sites. The genes involved in antioxidant responses (sod, gpx) suggested that more critical conditions may be present at downstream sites, but even upstream of Milan there seemed to be some level of oxidative stress. Indirect evidences of potential apoptotic activity (bcl2/bax < 1) in turn suggested the possibility of genotoxic effects. The genes encoding for estrogen receptors (erα, erβ1, erβ2) showed exposure to (xeno)estrogens with a progressive increase after exposure to sediments from downstream sites, paralleled by a corresponding downregulation of the ar gene, likely related to antiandrogenic compounds. Multiple levels of thyroid disruption were also evident particularly in downstream zebrafish, as for thyroid growth (nkx2.1), hormone synthesis and transport (tg, ttr, d2), and signal transduction (trα, trβ). The inhibition of the igf2 gene reasonably reflected larval growth inhibitions. Although none of the sediment chemicals could singly explain fish responses, principal component analysis suggested a good correlation between gene transcripts and the overall trend of contamination. Thus, the combined impacts from known and unknown covarying chemicals were proposed as the most probable explanation of fish responses. In summary, transcriptional endpoints applied to zebrafish embryo/larval test can provide sensitive, comprehensive, and timeliness information which may greatly enable the assessment of the hazard potential of sediments to fish, complementing morphological endpoints and being potentially predictive of longer studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10729-10747
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - ápr. 1 2020


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

Cite this

Viganò, L., Casatta, N., Farkas, A., Mascolo, G., Roscioli, C., Stefani, F., Vitelli, M., Olivo, F., Clerici, L., Robles, P., & Dellavedova, P. (2020). Embryo/larval toxicity and transcriptional effects in zebrafish (Danio rerio) exposed to endocrine active riverbed sediments. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 27(10), 10729-10747. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-019-07417-8