Exposing native cyprinid (Barbus plebejus) juveniles to river sediments leads to gonadal alterations, genotoxic effects and thyroid disruption.

Research paper by Luigi L Viganò, Silvio S De Flora, Marco M Gobbi, Giovanna G Guiso, Alberto A Izzotti, Alberta A Mandich, Giuseppe G Mascolo, Claudio C Roscioli

Indexed on: 19 Nov '15Published on: 19 Nov '15Published in: Aquatic Toxicology


Juveniles (50 days post hatch) of a native cyprinid fish (Barbus plebejus) were exposed for 7 months to sediments from the River Lambro, a polluted tributary impairing the quality of the River Po for tens of kilometers from their confluence. Sediments were collected upstream of the city of Milan and downstream at the closure of the drainage basin of the River Lambro. Chemical analyses revealed the presence of a complex mixture of bioavailable endocrine-active chemicals, with higher exposure levels in the downstream section of the tributary. Mainly characterized by brominated flame retardants, alkylphenols, polychlorinated biphenyls, and minor co-occurring personal care products and natural hormones, the sediment contamination induced reproductive disorders, as well as other forms of endocrine disruption and toxicity. In particular, exposed male barbel exhibited higher biliary PAH-like metabolites, overexpression of the cyp1a gene, vitellogenin production in all specimens, the presence of oocytes (up to 22% intersex), degenerative alterations in their testis, liver fat vacuolization, a marked depression of total thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) plasma levels, and genotoxic damages determined as hepatic DNA adducts. These results clearly demonstrate that Lambro sediments alone are responsible for recognizable changes in the structure and function of the reproductive and, in general, the endocrine system of a native fish species. In the real environment, exposure to waterborne and food-web sources of chemicals are responsible for additional toxic loads, and the present findings thus provide evidence for a causal role of this tributary in the severe decline observed in barbel in recent decades and raise concern that the fish community of the River Po is exposed to endocrine-mediated health effects along tens of kilometres of its course.