Microplastics are plastic fragments of particle sizes less than 5 mm, which are widely distributed in marine and terrestrial environments. In this study, earthworms Eisenia fetida were exposed to 100 and 1000 μg of 100 nm and 1300 nm fluorescent polystyrene microplastics (PS-MPs) per kg of artificial soil for 14 days. Uptake or accumulation of PS-MPs in earthworm intestines, histopathological changes, oxidative stress, and DNA damage were assessed to determine the toxicological effects of PS-MPs on E. fetida. The results showed that the average accumulated concentrations in the earthworm intestines were higher for 1300 nm PS-MPs (0.084 ± 0.005 and 0.094 ± 0.003 μg/mg for 100 and 1000 μg/kg, respectively) than for 100 nm PS-MPs (0.015 ± 0.001 and 0.033 ± 0.002 μg/mg for 100 and 1000 μg/kg, respectively). In addition, histopathological analysis indicated that the intestinal cells were damaged after exposure to PS-MPs. Furthermore, PS-MPs significantly changed glutathione (GSH) level and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity. The GSH levels were 86.991 ± 7.723, 165.436 ± 4.256-167.767 ± 18.642, and 93.590 ± 4.279-173.980 ± 15.523 μmol/L in the control, 100 nm, and 1300 nm PS-MPs treatment groups. In addition, the SOD activities were 10.566 ± 0.621, 9.039 ± 0.787-9.408 ± 0.493, and 7.959 ± 0.422-9.195 ± 0.327 U/mg protein for the control, 100 nm, and 1300 nm PS-MPs treatment groups, respectively, indicating that oxidative stress was induced after PS-MPs exposure. Furthermore, the comet assay suggested that exposure to PS-MPs induced DNA damage in earthworms. Overall, 1300 nm PS-MPs showed more toxic effect than 100 nm PS-MPs on earthworms. These findings provide new insights regarding the toxicological effects of low concentrations of microplastics on earthworms, and on the ecological risks of microplastics to soil animals.
Keywords: DNA damage; Earthworm; Histopathology; Microplastics; Oxidative damage.
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