Effects of the aquatic contaminant human pharmaceuticals and their mixtures on the proliferation and migratory responses of the bioindicator freshwater ciliate Tetrahymena

Chemosphere. 2012 Oct;89(5):592-601. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2012.05.058. Epub 2012 Jun 12.


An increasing attention is paid to the potential harmful effects of aquatic contaminant pharmaceuticals exerted on both biosystems and humans. In the present work the effects of 14 pharmaceuticals including NSAIDs, antibiotics, β-blockers and a frequently used X-ray contrast media on the proliferation and migratory behavior of the freshwater ciliate Tetrahymena pyriformis was investigated. Moreover, the mixture toxicity of four selected pharmaceuticals (diclofenac, ibuprofen, metoprolol and propranolol) was evaluated in binary mixtures using full factorial experimental design. Our results showed that the sensitivity of Tetrahymena to NSAIDs and β-blockers (EC(50) ranged from 4.8 mg L(-1) to 308.1 mg L(-1)) was comparable to that of algal or Daphnia bioassays. Based on these elevated EC(50) values acute toxic effects of these pharmaceuticals to T. pyriformis are unlikely. Antibiotics and the contrast agent sodium-diatrizoate had no proliferation inhibiting effect. Chemotactic response of Tetrahymena was more sensible than proliferation as significant chemorepellent action was observed in the environmentally realistic concentration range for acetylsalicylic acid, diclofenac, fenoprofen, paracetamol, metoprolol, propranolol, timolol and trimethoprim (Chemotaxis Index ranged from 63% to 88%). Mixture toxicity experiments resulted in a complex, concentration dependent interaction type pattern with antagonism being the predominant interaction type (59%) followed by additivity (37%) and synergism (4%). Hence the concept of concentration addition validated for NSAIDs in other organisms cannot be adopted for this ciliate. In summary authors suggest Tetrahymena as a sensible model of testing aquatic contaminants as well as underline the significance using more specific endpoints to understand the complex mechanisms investigated.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Chemotaxis / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Synergism
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Fresh Water / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Tetrahymena / cytology*
  • Tetrahymena / drug effects*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical