Testis transcriptome alterations in zebrafish (Danio rerio) with reduced fertility due to developmental exposure to 17α-ethinyl estradiol

Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2018 Jun 1:262:44-58. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.03.011. Epub 2018 Mar 8.


17α-Ethinylestradiol (EE2) is a ubiquitous aquatic contaminant shown to decrease fish fertility at low concentrations, especially in fish exposed during development. The mechanisms of the decreased fertility are not fully understood. In this study, we perform transcriptome analysis by RNA sequencing of testes from zebrafish with previously reported lowered fertility due to exposure to low concentrations of EE2 during development. Fish were exposed to 1.2 and 1.6 ng/L (measured concentration; nominal concentrations 3 and 10 ng/L) of EE2 from fertilization to 80 days of age, followed by 82 days of remediation in clean water. RNA sequencing analysis revealed 249 and 16 genes to be differentially expressed after exposure to 1.2 and 1.6 ng/L, respectively; a larger inter-sample variation was noted in the latter. Expression of 11 genes were altered by both exposures and in the same direction. The coding sequences most affected could be categorized to the putative functions cell signalling, proteolysis, protein metabolic transport and lipid metabolic process. Several homeobox transcription factors involved in development and differentiation showed increased expression in response to EE2 and differential expression of genes related to cell death, differentiation and proliferation was observed. In addition, several genes related to steroid synthesis, testis development and function were differentially expressed. A number of genes associated with spermatogenesis in zebrafish and/or mouse were also found to be differentially expressed. Further, differences in non-coding sequences were observed, among them several differentially expressed miRNA that might contribute to testis gene regulation at post-transcriptional level. This study has generated insights of changes in gene expression that accompany fertility alterations in zebrafish males that persist after developmental exposure to environmental relevant concentrations of EE2 that persist followed by clean water to adulthood. Hopefully, this will generate hypotheses to test in search for mechanistic explanations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / drug effects
  • Circadian Rhythm / genetics
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Ethinyl Estradiol / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Fertility / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Male
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / drug effects
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Stress, Physiological / drug effects
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics
  • Testis / drug effects
  • Testis / growth & development*
  • Testis / metabolism*
  • Transcriptome / genetics*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism
  • Zebrafish / genetics*
  • Zebrafish / physiology


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Ethinyl Estradiol