Alterations of larval photo-dependent swimming responses (PDR): New endpoints for rapid and diagnostic screening of aquatic contamination


Detection and toxicity assessment of waterborne contaminants are crucial for protecting human health and the environment. Development of easy-to-implement, rapid and cost-effective tools to measure anthropogenic effects on watersheds are critical for responsible management, particularly in times of increasing development and urbanization. Traditionally, environmental toxicology has focused on limited endpoints, such as lethality and fertility, which are directly affecting population levels. However, more sensitive readings are needed to assess sub-lethal effects. Monitoring of contaminant-induced behavior alterations was proposed before, but is difficult to implement in the wild and performing it in aquatic laboratory models seem more suited. For this purpose, we adapted a photo-dependent swimming response (PDR) that was previously described in zebrafish larva. We first asked if PDR was present in other aquatic animals. We measured PDR in larvae from two freshwater prawn species (Macrobrachium rosenbergii, MR, and Macrobrachium carcinus, MC) and from another fish the fathead minnow (FHM, Pimephales promelas). In all, we found a strong and reproducible species-specific PDR, which is arguing that this behavior is important, therefore an environmental relevant endpoint. Next, we measured PDR in fish larvae after acute exposure to copper, a common waterborne contaminant. FHM larvae were hyperactive at all tested concentrations in contrast to ZF larvae, which exhibited a concentration-dependent hyperactivity. In addition to this well-accepted anxiety-like behavior, we examined two more: photo-stimulated startle response (PSSR) and center avoidance (CA). Both were significantly increased. Therefore, PDR measures after acute exposure to this waterborne contaminant provided as sensitive readout for its detection and toxicity assessment. This approach represents an opportunity to diagnostically examine any substance, even when present in complex mixtures like ambient surface waters. Mechanistic studies of toxicity using the extensive molecular tool kit of ZF could be a direct extension of such approaches.