Repeated-oral dose toxicity of polyethylene microplastics and the possible implications on reproduction and development of the next generation

Toxicol Lett. 2020 May 15:324:75-85. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2020.01.008. Epub 2020 Jan 16.


With the increased distribution of microplastics in the environment, the potential for harmful effects on human health and ecosystems have become a global concern. Considering that polyethylene microplastics (PE-MPs) are among the most produced plastics worldwide, we administered PE-MPs (0.125, 0.5, 2 mg/day/mouse) by gavage to mice (10 mice/sex/dose) for 90 days. Compared to control, the body weight gain was significantly reduced in the male mice, and the proportion of neutrophils in the blood stream clearly increased in both sexes of mice. Persistence of a PE-MPs-like material and migration of granules to the mast cell membrane and accumulation of damaged organelles were observed in the stomachs and the spleens from the treated dams, respectively. Additionally, the IgA level in the blood stream was significantly elevated in the dams administered with PE-MPs compared to control, and the subpopulation of lymphocytes within the spleen was altered. Following, we performed an additional study to screen the effects of PE-MPs on reproduction and development (5 mice/sex/dose). Importantly, number of live births per dam, the sex ratio of pups, and body weight of pups was notably altered in groups treated with PE-MPs compared to the control group. Additionally, PE-MPs affected the subpopulation of lymphocytes within the spleen of the offspring, as did in the dams. Therefore, we propose that reproductive and developmental toxicity testing is warranted to evaluate the safety of microplastics. Additionally, we suggest that the IgA level may be used as a biomarker for harmful effects following exposure on microplastics.

Keywords: Development; Immunoglobulin A; Immunotoxicity; Microplastics; NOAEL; Reproduction.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Female
  • Fetus / drug effects*
  • Immunoglobulin A / blood
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Microplastics / toxicity*
  • Polyethylene / toxicity*
  • Reproduction / drug effects*


  • Biomarkers
  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Microplastics
  • Polyethylene