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Toxicity and sublethal effects of methylparaben on zebrafish (Danio rerio) larvae and adults

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Among the parabens, methylparaben (MeP) is the most commonly found in personal care products. Due to the continuous use of MeP and low removal efficiency by wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), it reaches aquatic environments, where it is incorporated by organisms inhabiting these waters. The present study aimed to evaluate the effects of MeP on the zebrafish Danio rerio larvae and adults through toxicity tests and physiological and biochemical biomarkers in order to assess possible harmful effects of MeP. For biomarker measurements, fish were exposed to the environmental concentration of 30 μg/L of MeP and the non-effect concentration (NOEC) estimated for larvae (60 mg/L) and adult (50 mg/L) in toxicity tests. The median lethal concentration (LC50) of MeP was 105.09 mg/L for adults and 211.12 mg/L for larvae. These values unexpectedly indicated that adults were more sensitive to MeP compared to larvae. In adult fish, exposure to 50 mg/L MeP induced a significant decrease in phase 1 biotransformation (ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase activity) and an increase in lipoperoxidation (LPO) in gills, as well as an increase in frequency of micronuclei in erythrocytes of these fish. Biomarkers results were integrated (integrated biomarker response [IBR] index), and it observed lower IBR scores in tissues of fish exposed to MeP, suggesting a suppression of biological responses. In addition, LPO contributed mostly to the IBR score estimated for gills of fish exposed to 50 mg/L MeP. Based on LPO quantity, sublethal exposure of MeP (30 μg/L and 60 mg/L) did not cause toxicity to larvae. Hence, we investigated whether the difference in sensitivity between adults and larvae could be associated with the antimicrobial action of MeP that could affect the intestinal microbiota of adults. We only found an increase in the number of carbon sources consumed by them without effects on diversity and abundance. This outcome can be considered an adaptation to environmental stress, but not a negative effect. However, the LPO and genotoxicity caused by MeP to zebrafish adults call direct attention to the importance of regulating the presence of this compound in the environment and improve cleaning processes adopted by WWTP.

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Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We are grateful to Muryllo Castro for the help with dataset survey and to Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior – CAPES – cod. 001 for LCCP scholarship.


This study was supported by Companhia Rio Grandense de Saneamento - CORSAN (006/16 – DTEC) and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior – CAPES – cod. 001.

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Camila De Martinez Gaspar Martins conceived the study and was in charge of the overall outline and planning. Camila De Martinez Gaspar Martins was responsible for obtaining the financial support and managing it. Larissa Cristine de Carvalho Penha performed all the experiments and analyzed the results. Regina Coimbra Rola and Flávio Manoel da Silva Junior provided critical feedback and helped shape the research. Larissa Cristine de Carvalho Penha drafted this manuscript and designed the figures, and Camila De Martinez Gaspar Martins, Regina Coimbra Rola, and Flávio Manoel da Silva Junior contributed in finalizing the work and its revisions.

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Correspondence to Camila de Martinez Gaspar Martins.

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All procedures with animals presented here complied with ethical standards (CEUA-FURG n° P047/2017).

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Responsible editor: Bruno Nunes

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• Methylparaben caused an increase in lipoperoxidation in gills of adult zebrafish.

• The compound also increased the frequency of nuclear abnormalities in fish erythrocytes.

• Zebrafish larvae were more tolerant to methylparaben than adults.

• Environmental concentration of methylparaben did not induce LPO or DNA damage in zebrafish.

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de Carvalho Penha, L.C., Coimbra Rola, R., da Silva Junior, F.M. et al. Toxicity and sublethal effects of methylparaben on zebrafish (Danio rerio) larvae and adults. Environ Sci Pollut Res 28, 45534–45544 (2021).

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