Linking chemical exposure to lipid homeostasis: A municipal waste water treatment plant influent is obesogenic for zebrafish larvae

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2019 Oct 30;182:109406. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2019.109406. Epub 2019 Jul 6.


Obesity, a risk factor for the development of type-2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, hepatic steatosis and some cancers, has been ranked in the top 10 health risk in the world by the World Health Organization. Despite the growing body of literature evidencing an association between the obesity epidemic and specific chemical exposure across a wide range of animal taxa, very few studies assessed the effects of chemical mixtures and environmental samples on lipid homeostasis. Additionally, the mode of action of several chemicals reported to alter lipid homeostasis is still poorly understood. Aiming to fill some of these gaps, we combined an in vivo assay with the model species zebrafish (Danio rerio) to screen lipid accumulation and evaluate expression changes of key genes involved in lipid homeostasis, alongside with an in vitro transactivation assay using human and zebrafish nuclear receptors, retinoid X receptor α and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ. Zebrafish larvae were exposed from 4 th day post-fertilization until the end of the experiment (day 18), to six different treatments: experimental control, solvent control, tributyltin at 100 ng/L Sn and 200 ng/L Sn (positive control), and wastewater treatment plant influent at 1.25% and 2.5%. Exposure to tributyltin and to 2.5% influent led to a significant accumulation of lipids, with white adipose tissue deposits concentrating in the perivisceral area. The highest in vitro tested influent concentration (10%) was able to significantly transactivate the human heterodimer PPARγ/RXRα, thus suggesting the presence in the influent of HsPPARγ/RXRα agonists. Our results demonstrate, for the first time, the ability of complex environmental samples from a municipal waste water treatment plant influent to induce lipid accumulation in zebrafish larvae.

Keywords: Endocrine disruptor; Environmental mixture; Nuclear receptor; Obesity; Obesogen.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Larva / drug effects*
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Obesity / chemically induced*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Trialkyltin Compounds / toxicity*
  • Waste Water / chemistry
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*
  • Water Purification
  • Zebrafish / metabolism*


  • Trialkyltin Compounds
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • tributyltin