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Acute effects of β-naphthoflavone on cardiorespiratory function and metabolism in adult zebrafish (Danio rerio)


Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) agonists are known to cause lethal cardiovascular deformities in fish after developmental exposure. Acute adult fish toxicity of AhR agonists is thought to be minimal, but limited evidence suggests sublethal effects may also involve the cardiac system in fish. In the present study, adult zebrafish (Danio rerio) were aqueously exposed to solvent control or three nominal concentrations of the commonly used model AhR agonist, β-naphthoflavone (BNF), for 48 h. Following exposure, fish were subjected to echocardiography to determine cardiac function or swimming tests with concurrent oxygen consumption measurement. Critical swimming speed and standard metabolic rate were not significantly changed, while active metabolic rate decreased with increasing BNF exposure, reaching statistical significance at the highest BNF exposure. Factorial aerobic scope was the most sensitive end-point and was decreased at even lower BNF concentrations, indicating a reduced aerobic capacity after acute AhR agonist exposure in adult fish. The highest BNF concentration caused a significant decrease in cardiac output, while increasing the ratio of atrial to ventricular heart rate (indicating atrioventricular conduction blockade). In conclusion, the effect of acute BNF exposure on zebrafish metabolic capacity and cardiac function is likely to be physiologically important given that fish have a critical need for adequate oxygen to fuel essential survival behaviors such as swimming, growth, and reproduction. Future studies should be directed at examining the effects of other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on fish cardiorespiratory function to determine whether their effects and modes of action are similar to BNF.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3



Aryl hydrocarbon receptor



U crit :

Critical swimming speed

MO2 :

Oxygen consumption rate


Standard metabolic rate


Active metabolic rate


Factorial aerobic scope

U i :

Highest velocity maintained for an entire time interval during swim testing

T i :

Time that elapsed at fatigue velocity

U ii :

Increment by which water velocity was increased for each interval during swim testing

T ii :

Time for each swimming velocity interval

Q :

Cardiac output

f H :

Heart rate

V S :

Stroke volume


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The authors would like to thank the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for providing research funds for the work in this study (Discovery Grant to LPW) and a postgraduate scholarship (PGS-M to CJG).

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Correspondence to Lynn P. Weber.

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Gerger, C.J., Thomas, J.K., Janz, D.M. et al. Acute effects of β-naphthoflavone on cardiorespiratory function and metabolism in adult zebrafish (Danio rerio). Fish Physiol Biochem 41, 289–298 (2015).

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  • Acute toxicity
  • β-Naphthoflavone
  • Cardiac toxicity
  • Metabolic rate
  • Swim performance
  • Zebrafish