Developmental titanium dioxide nanoparticle exposure induces oxidative stress and neurobehavioral changes in zebrafish

Aquat Toxicol. 2021 Nov;240:105990. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2021.105990. Epub 2021 Oct 8.


The widespread commercial application of titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2 NPs) leads to ubiquitous presence of TiO2 NPs in the aquatic environment, which highlights the necessity to determine their potential adverse effects on aquatic organisms. The developing nerve system is particularly susceptible to environment perturbation. However, few studies have explored the developmental neurobehavioral toxicity of TiO2 NPs, especially at smaller particle size ranges (≤20 nm) that have relatively longer retention time in the water column. In this study, zebrafish embryos were exposed to non-teratogenic concentrations of 0.1 and 1 mg/L TiO2 NPs (average size of 14-20 nm) from 8 to 108 h post-fertilization (hpf) followed by various assessments at different time points up to 12 days post-fertilization (dpf). Our findings revealed that 1 mg/L TiO2 NPs perturbed the motor and social behaviors in larval zebrafish. These behavioral changes were characterized by decreased swimming speed in a locomotor response test at 5 dpf, increased travel distance in a flash stimulus test at 5 dpf, increased preference to the light zone in a light/dark preference test at 10 dpf, and increased mirror attack and percent time spent in the mirror zone in a mirror stimulus response assay at 12 dpf. Mechanistic examinations at 5 dpf revealed elevated cell apoptosis and oxidative stress. Cell apoptosis was characterized by increased acridine orange (AO) positive cells in the olfactory region and neuromasts of the lateral line system. Oxidative stress was characterized by increased lipid peroxidation, increased ROS production, and upregulated catalase (cat) gene expression. In addition, TiO2 NP exposure also upregulated genes associated with the developmental nervous system such as the growth associated protein 43 (gap43) and proliferating cell nuclear antigen (pcna). Our results suggest that the neurobehavioral changes in larvae exposed to 1 mg/L TiO2 NPs during early development may result from cell apoptosis and oxidative stress induced neuronal damages.

Keywords: Behaviors; Oxidative stress; Titanium dioxide nanoparticles; Zebrafish.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Nanoparticles* / toxicity
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Titanium / toxicity
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / toxicity
  • Zebrafish


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • titanium dioxide
  • Titanium