Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Mediates Larval Zebrafish Fin Duplication Following Exposure to Benzofluoranthenes

Toxicol Sci. 2020 May 8;kfaa063. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfaa063. Online ahead of print.


The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) mediates developmental toxicity of several xenobiotic classes including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Using embryonic zebrafish, we previously identified four PAHs that caused a novel phenotype among AHR ligands - growth of a lateral, duplicate caudal fin fold. The window of sensitivity to the most potent inducer of this phenotype, benzo[k]fluoranthene (BkF), was prior to 36 hours post-fertilization (hpf), although the phenotype was not manifest until 60 hpf. AHR dependency via Ahr2 was demonstrated using morpholino knockdown. Hepatocyte ablation demonstrated that hepatic metabolism of BkF was not required for the phenotype, nor was it responsible for the window of susceptibility. RNA sequencing performed on caudal trunk tissue from BkF-exposed animals collected at 48, 60, 72, and 96 hpf showed upregulation of genes associated with AHR activation, appendage development, and tissue patterning. Genes encoding fibroblast growth factor and bone morphogenic protein ligands, along with retinaldehyde dehydrogenase, were prominently upregulated. Gene ontology (GO) term analysis revealed that upregulated genes were enriched for mesoderm development and fin regeneration, while downregulated genes were enriched for Wnt signaling and neuronal development. MetaCore (Clarivate Analytics) systems analysis of orthologous human genes predicted that R-SMADs, AP-1, and LEF1 regulated the expression of an enriched number of gene targets across all time points. Our results demonstrate a novel aspect of AHR activity with implications for developmental processes conserved across vertebrate species.

Keywords: RNA sequencing; appendage; benzo[k]fluoranthene.