Based on the hypothesis that analysis of gene expression could be used to predict chronic fish toxicity, the zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryo test (DarT), developed as a replacement method for the acute fish test, was expanded to a gene expression D. rerio embryo test (Gene-DarT). The effects of 14 substances on lethal and sublethal endpoints of the DarT and on expression of potential marker genes were investigated: the aryl hydrocarbon receptor 2, cytochrome P450 1A (cypla), heat shock protein 70, fizzy-related protein 1, the transcription factors v-maf musculoaponeurotic fibrosarcoma oncogene family protein g (avian) 1 and NF-E2-p45-related factor, and heme oxygenase 1 (hmox1). After exposure of zebrafish embryos for 48 h, differential gene expression was evaluated using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, gel electrophoresis, and densitometric analysis of the gels. All tested compounds significantly affected the expression of at least one potential marker gene, with cyp1a and hmox1 being most sensitive. Lowest-observed-effect concentrations (LOECs) for gene expression were below concentrations resulting in 10% lethal effects in the DarT. For 10 (3,4- and 3,5-dichloroaniline, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, 2,4-dinitrophenol, atrazine, parathion-ethyl, chlorotoluron, genistein, 4-nitroquinoline-1-oxide, and cadmium) out of the 14 tested substances, LOEC values derived with the Gene-DarT differ by a factor of less than 10 from LOEC values of fish early life stage tests with zebrafish. For pentachloroaniline and pentachlorobenzene, the Gene-DarT showed a 23- and 153-fold higher sensitivity, respectively, while for lindane, it showed a 13-fold lower sensitivity. For ivermectin, the Gene-DarT was by a factor of more than 1,000 less sensitive than the acute fish test. The results of the present study indicate that gene expression analysis in zebrafish embryos could principally be used to predict effect concentrations in the fish early life stage test.
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