Toxicity mechanisms of polystyrene microplastics in marine mussels revealed by high-coverage quantitative metabolomics using chemical isotope labeling liquid chromatography mass spectrometry

J Hazard Mater. 2021 Sep 5:417:126003. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.126003. Epub 2021 May 5.


Marine microplastic has become an important environmental issue of global concern due to its wide distribution and harmful impacts. However, there is still insufficient information on the toxicity mechanism of microplastics to marine organisms. In this study, we developed and applied a high-coverage quantitative metabolomics technique to investigate the toxicity mechanisms of the polystyrene microspheres (micro-PS) on marine mussels (Mytilus coruscus). A total of 3599 metabolites were quantified, including 163 positively identified metabolites, 318 high-confident putatively identified metabolites, and 2602 mass-matched metabolites from the hemolymph of mussels. Metabolomics analysis indicated that micro-PS disrupted the amino acid metabolism, particularly phenylalanine metabolism, which may lead to oxidative stress and neurotoxicity. Micro-PS at environmentally relevant concentrations induced oxidative stress and immunotoxicity in mussels. After 7 days of recovery, along with the significant clearance of micro-PS by mussels, both metabolite levels and biochemical indicators generally returned to the same level as the control group. Overall, the results showed that microplastics at environmentally-relevant concentrations can cause toxic effects on mussels but these influences are reversible. We envisage the usages of high-coverage metabolomics for investigating the toxicity of various types of microplastics under many different conditions, including those relevant to the marine environment.

Keywords: Immunity; Metabolomics; Microplastics; Mussels; Oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolomics
  • Microplastics
  • Mytilus*
  • Plastics / analysis
  • Plastics / toxicity
  • Polystyrenes / toxicity
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / toxicity


  • Microplastics
  • Plastics
  • Polystyrenes
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical