Pradhan, A., Ivarsson, P., Ragnvaldsson, D., Berg, H., Jass, J., Olsson, P.E. (2017) Transcriptional responses of zebrafish to complex metal mixtures in laboratory studies overestimates the responses observed with environmental water. The Science of the total environment. 584-585:1138-1146.
Metals released into the environment continue to be of concern for human health. However, risk assessment of metal exposure is often based on total metal levels and usually does not take bioavailability data, metal speciation or matrix effects into consideration. The continued development of biological endpoint analyses are therefore of high importance for improved eco-toxicological risk analyses. While there is an on-going debate concerning synergistic or additive effects of low-level mixed exposures there is little environmental data confirming the observations obtained from laboratory experiments. In the present study we utilized qRT-PCR analysis to identify key metal response genes to develop a method for biomonitoring and risk-assessment of metal pollution. The gene expression patterns were determined for juvenile zebrafish exposed to waters from sites down-stream of a closed mining operation. Genes representing different physiological processes including stress response, inflammation, apoptosis, drug metabolism, ion channels and receptors, and genotoxicity were analyzed. The gene expression patterns of zebrafish exposed to laboratory prepared metal mixes were compared to the patterns obtained with fish exposed to the environmental samples with the same metal composition and concentrations. Exposure to environmental samples resulted in fewer alterations in gene expression compared to laboratory mixes. A biotic ligand model (BLM) was used to approximate the bioavailability of the metals in the environmental setting. However, the BLM results were not in agreement with the experimental data, suggesting that the BLM may be overestimating the risk in the environment. The present study therefore supports the inclusion of site-specific biological analyses to complement the present chemical based assays used for environmental risk-assessment.