Waterborne exposure to the antineoplastic 5-fluorouracil alters lipid composition in larval zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Sci Total Environ. 2024 Jun 10:928:172377. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.172377. Epub 2024 Apr 10.


Antineoplastic medications are present in aquatic environments and are measured at relatively high concentrations in hospital sewage effluent. Thus, it is important to characterize risk associated with waterborne exposures to anticancer drugs. The drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) is used to treat several types of cancers, acting to inhibit cell division and cellular metabolism. The objectives of this study were to determine the effects of 5-FU on developmental endpoints and lipid composition in zebrafish. 5-FU did not negatively affect development nor survival in developing zebrafish at concentrations up to 1000 μg/L. However, 5-FU increased neutral lipid content in zebrafish larvae, indicating potential for lipid dysregulation. To further discern effects on lipids, lipidomics was conducted and a total of 164 lipids belonging to 14 lipid classes were identified. Significant changes (false discovery rate < 0.05) in abundance were detected for 19 lipids including some ceramides, ether-linked phosphatidylethanolamines, and sphingomyelins among others. We also measured the expression levels of 14 lipid-related enzymes and transporters (e.g., acox3, dgat1, fads2, fasn, elovl2) using real-time PCR; however, mRNA abundance levels were not affected, suggesting transcriptional changes may not be a primary mechanism underlying lipid dysregulation. Locomotor activity was measured in zebrafish as lipids are needed for swimming activity in larvae. Exposure to 5-FU did not affect locomotor activity up to 1000 μg/L. We conclude that lipids accumulate in larval zebrafish with exposure to 5-FU, which can subsequently affect lipid composition. These data reveal potential lipid signatures of 5-FU exposure and contribute to risk assessments for antineoplastic exposure in aquatic environments.

Keywords: Antineoplastic; Behavior; Development; Gene expression; Lipid content; Lipidomics.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity
  • Fluorouracil*
  • Larva* / drug effects
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Lipids
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / toxicity
  • Zebrafish*


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Fluorouracil
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Lipids