Systematic developmental neurotoxicity assessment of a representative PAH Superfund mixture using zebrafish

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2018 Sep 1:354:115-125. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2018.03.029. Epub 2018 Apr 6.


Superfund sites often consist of complex mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). It is widely recognized that PAHs pose risks to human and environmental health, but the risks posed by exposure to PAH mixtures are unclear. We constructed an environmentally relevant PAH mixture with the top 10 most prevalent PAHs (SM10) from a Superfund site derived from environmental passive sampling data. Using the zebrafish model, we measured body burden at 48 hours post fertilization (hpf) and evaluated the developmental and neurotoxicity of SM10 and the 10 individual constituents at 24 hours post fertilization (hpf) and 5 days post fertilization (dpf). Zebrafish embryos were exposed from 6 to 120 hpf to (1) the SM10 mixture, (2) a variety of individual PAHs: pyrene, fluoranthene, retene, benzo[a]anthracene, chrysene, naphthalene, acenaphthene, phenanthrene, fluorene, and 2-methylnaphthalene. We demonstrated that SM10 and only 3 of the individual PAHs were developmentally toxic. Subsequently, we constructed and exposed developing zebrafish to two sub-mixtures: SM3 (comprised of 3 of the developmentally toxicity PAHs) and SM7 (7 non-developmentally toxic PAHs). We found that the SM3 toxicity profile was similar to SM10, and SM7 unexpectedly elicited developmental toxicity unlike that seen with its individual components. The results demonstrated that the overall developmental toxicity in the mixtures could be explained using the general concentration addition model. To determine if exposures activated the AHR pathway, spatial expression of CYP1A was evaluated in the 10 individual PAHs and the 3 mixtures at 5 dpf. Results showed activation of AHR in the liver and vasculature for the mixtures and some individual PAHs. Embryos exposed to SM10 during development and raised in chemical-free water into adulthood exhibited decreased learning and responses to startle stimulus indicating that developmental SM10 exposures affect neurobehavior. Collectively, these results exemplify the utility of zebrafish to investigate the developmental and neurotoxicity of complex mixtures.

Keywords: Aryl hydrocarbon receptor; Behavior; Biomarker; Cytochrome P4501A; Passive sampling; Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Hydroxylases / biosynthesis
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Body Burden
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / drug effects
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Enzyme Induction
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / embryology
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Nervous System / embryology
  • Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / embryology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / etiology*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / physiopathology
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity*
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / agonists
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism
  • Reflex, Startle / drug effects
  • Risk Assessment
  • Zebrafish / embryology*
  • Zebrafish / metabolism


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Hydroxylases