Uptake, tissue distribution, and toxicity of polystyrene nanoparticles in developing zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Aquat Toxicol. 2018 Jan;194:185-194. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2017.11.017. Epub 2017 Nov 24.


Plastic pollution is a critical environmental concern and comprises the majority of anthropogenic debris in the ocean, including macro, micro, and likely nanoscale (less than 100nm in at least one dimension) plastic particles. While the toxicity of macroplastics and microplastics is relatively well studied, the toxicity of nanoplastics is largely uncharacterized. Here, fluorescent polystyrene nanoparticles (PS NPs) were used to investigate the potential toxicity of nanoplastics in developing zebrafish (Danio rerio), as well as to characterize the uptake and distribution of the particles within embryos and larvae. Zebrafish embryos at 6h post-fertilization (hpf) were exposed to PS NPs (0.1, 1, or 10ppm) until 120 hpf. Our results demonstrate that PS NPs accumulated in the yolk sac as early as 24 hpf and migrated to the gastrointestinal tract, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, heart, and brain throughout development (48-120 hpf). Accumulation of PS NPs decreased during the depuration phase (120-168 hpf) in all organs, but at a slower rate in the pancreas and gastrointestinal tract. Notably, exposure to PS NPs did not induce significant mortality, deformities, or changes to mitochondrial bioenergetics, but did decrease the heart rate. Lastly, exposure to PS NPs altered larval behavior as evidenced by swimming hypoactivity in exposed larvae. Taken together, these data suggest that at least some nanoplastics can penetrate the chorion of developing zebrafish, accumulate in the tissues, and affect physiology and behavior, potentially affecting organismal fitness in contaminated aquatic ecosystems.

Keywords: Behavioral changes; Cardiotoxicity; Plastic pollution; Polystyrene nanoparticles; Uptake and accumulation; Zebrafish (Danio rerio).

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / drug effects*
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Nanoparticles / metabolism
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Polystyrenes / metabolism
  • Polystyrenes / toxicity*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*
  • Zebrafish / metabolism*


  • Polystyrenes
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical