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Oestrogenic contaminants are widespread in the aquatic environment and have been shown to induce adverse effects in both wildlife (most notably in fish) and humans, raising international concern. Available detecting and testing systems are limited in their capacity to elucidate oestrogen signalling pathways and physiological impacts. Here we developed a transient expression assay to investigate the effects of oestrogenic chemicals in fish early life stages and to identify target organs for oestrogenic effects. To enhance the response sensitivity to oestrogen, we adopted the use of multiple tandem oestrogen responsive elements (EREc38) in a Tol2 transposon mediated Gal4ff-UAS system. The plasmid constructed (pTol2_ERE-TATA-Gal4ff), contains three copies of oestrogen response elements (3ERE) that on exposure to oestrogen induces expression of Gal4ff which this in turn binds Gal4-responsive Upstream Activated Sequence (UAS) elements, driving the expression of a second reporter gene, EGFP (Enhanced Green Fluorescent Protein).
The response of our construct to oestrogen exposure in zebrafish embryos was examined using a transient expression assay. The two plasmids were injected into 1–2 cell staged zebrafish embryos, and the embryos were exposed to various oestrogens including the natural steroid oestrogen 17ß-oestradiol (E2), the synthetic oestrogen 17α- ethinyloestradiol (EE2), and the relatively weak environmental oestrogen nonylphenol (NP), and GFP expression was examined in the subsequent embryos using fluorescent microscopy. There was no GFP expression detected in unexposed embryos, but specific and mosaic expression of GFP was detected in the liver, heart, somite muscle and some other tissue cells for exposures to steroid oestrogen treatments (EE2; 10ng/L, E2; 100ng/L, after 72h exposures). For the NP exposures, GFP expression was observed at 10μg NP/L after 72h (100μg NP/L was toxic to the fish). We also demonstrate that our construct works in medaka, another model fish test species, suggesting the transient assay is applicable for testing oestrogenic chemicals in fish generally.
Our results indicate that the transient expression assay system can be used as a rapid integrated testing system for environmental oestrogens and to detect the oestrogenic target sites in developing fish embryos.