Sulfolane is a widely used polar, aprotic solvent that has been detected by chemical analysis in groundwater and creeks around the world including Alberta, Canada (800 µg/mL), Louisiana, USA (2900 µg/mL) and Brisbane, Australia (4344 µg/mL). Previous research provided information on adverse effects of sulfolane on mammals, but relatively little information is available on aquatic organisms. This study tested the effects of sulfolane (0-5000 µg/mL) on early development of zebrafish larvae, using various morphometric (survival, hatching, yolk sac and pericardial oedema, haemorrhaging, spinal malformations, swim bladder inflation), growth (larval length, eye volume, yolk sac utilisation), behavioural (touch response, locomotor activity and transcript abundance parameters (ahr1a, cyp1a, thraa, dio1, dio2, dio3, 11βhsd2, gr, aqp3a, cyp19a1b, ddc, gria2b and hsp70) for 120 h. Embryos were chronically exposed to sulfolane throughout the experimental period. For locomotor activity, however, we also investigated acute response to 2-h sulfolane treatment. Sulfolane sensitivity causing significant impairment in the observed parameters were different depending on parameters measured, including survival (concentrations greater than 800 µg/mL), morphometric and growth (800-1000 µg/mL), behaviour (500-800 µg/mL) and transcript abundance (10 µg/mL). The overall results provide novel information on the adverse health impacts of sulfolane on an aquatic vertebrate species, and an insight into developmental impairments following exposure to environmental levels of sulfolane in fish embryos.
Keywords: behaviour; gene expression; morphometrics; sulfolane; toxicity; zebrafish.