Microplastics induce transcriptional changes, immune response and behavioral alterations in adult zebrafish

Scientific reports

Article number: 15775 (2019Doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-52292-5

Abstract: Microplastics have become pervasive environmental pollutants in both freshwater and marine ecosystems. The presence of microplastics have been recorded in the tissues of many wild fish species, and laboratory studies have demonstrated that microplastics can exert adverse health effects. To further investigate the biological mechanisms underlying microplastics toxicity we applied an integrated approach, analyzing the effects of microplastics at transcriptomic, histological and behavioral level. Adult zebrafish have been exposed to two concentrations of high-density polyethylene and polystyrene microplastics for twenty days. Transcriptomic results indicate alterations in the expression of immune system genes and the down-regulation of genes correlated with epithelium integrity and lipid metabolism. The transcriptomic findings are supported by tissue alterations and higher occurrence of neutrophils observed in gills and intestinal epithelium. Even the daily rhythm of activity of zebrafish appears to be affected, although the regular pattern of activity is recovered over time. Considering the transcriptomic and histological findings reported, we hypothesize that the effects on mucosal epithelium integrity and immune response could potentially reduce the organism defense against pathogens, and lead to a different utilization of energy stores.

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