Current aquatic chemical testing guidelines recognize that solvents can potentially interfere with the organism or environmental conditions of aquatic ecotoxicity tests and therefore recommend concentration limits for their use. These recommendations are based on evidence of adverse solvent effects in apical level tests. The growing importance of subapical and chronic endpoints in future test strategies, however, suggests that the limits may need reassessment. To address this concern, microarrays were used to determine the effects of organic solvents, dimethylformamide (DMF) and dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), on the transcriptome of zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos. Embryos were exposed for 48 h to a range of concentrations between 0.025 and 32.0 ml/L. Effects on survival and development after 24 and 48 h were assessed microscopically, with no effects on mortality or morphology up to 2.0 and 16.0 ml/L for DMF and DMSO. However, analysis of 48-h embryonic RNA revealed large numbers of differentially expressed genes at concentrations well below the 0.1 ml/L solvent limit level. The enrichment of differentially expressed genes was found for metabolic, developmental, and other key biological processes, some of which could be linked to observed morphological effects at higher solvent concentrations. These findings emphasize the need to remove or lower as far as possible the concentrations of solvent carriers in ecotoxicology tests. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2012;31:593–604. © 2011 SETAC
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