The developing zebrafish kidney is impaired by Deepwater Horizon crude oil early-life stage exposure: A molecular to whole-organism perspective

Fabrizio Bonatesta, Cameron Emadi, Edwin R. Price, Yadong Wang, Justin B. Greer, Elvis Genbo Xu, Daniel Schlenk, Martin Grosell, Edward M. Mager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Crude oil is known to induce developmental defects in teleost fish exposed during early life stages (ELSs). While most studies in recent years have focused on cardiac endpoints, evidence from whole-animal transcriptomic analyses and studies with individual polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) indicate that the developing kidney (i.e., pronephros) is also at risk. Considering the role of the pronephros in osmoregulation, and the common observance of edema in oil-exposed ELS fish, surprisingly little is known regarding the effects of oil exposure on pronephros development and function. Using zebrafish (Danio rerio) ELSs, we assessed the transcriptional and morphological responses to two dilutions of high-energy water accommodated fractions (HEWAF) of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill using a combination of qPCR and whole-mount in situ hybridization (WM-ISH) of candidate genes involved in pronephros development and function, and immunohistochemistry (WM-IHC). To assess potential functional impacts on the pronephros, three 24 h osmotic challenges (2 hypo-osmotic, 1 near iso‐osmotic) were implemented at two developmental time points (48 and 96 h post fertilization; hpf) following exposure to HEWAF. Changes in transcript expression level and location specific to different regions of the pronephros were observed by qPCR and WM-ISH. Further, pronephros morphology was altered in crude oil exposed larvae, characterized by failed glomerulus and neck segment formation, and straightening of the pronephric tubules. The osmotic challenges at 96 hpf greatly exacerbated edema in both HEWAF-exposed groups regardless of osmolarity. By contrast, larvae at 48 hpf exhibited no edema prior to the osmotic challenge, but previous HEWAF exposure elicited a concentration-response increase in edema at hypo-osmotic conditions that appeared to have been largely alleviated under near iso‐osmotic conditions. In summary, ELS HEWAF exposure impaired proper pronephros development in zebrafish, which coupled with cardiotoxic effects, most likely reduced or inhibited pronephros fluid clearance capacity and increased edema formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number151988
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Feb 20 2022


  • Cardiotoxicity
  • Crude oil
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Edema
  • Osmoregulation
  • Pronephros

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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