Pathway-based approaches for assessment of real-time exposure to an estrogenic wastewater treatment plant effluent on fathead minnow reproduction

Jenna E. Cavallin, Kathleen M. Jensen, Michael D. Kahl, Daniel L. Villeneuve, Kathy E. Lee, Anthony L. Schroeder, Joe Mayasich, Evan P. Eid, Krysta R. Nelson, Rebecca Y. Milsk, Brett R. Blackwell, Jason P. Berninger, Carlie A LaLone, Chad Blanksma, Terri Jicha, Colleen Elonen, Rodney Johnson, Gerald T Ankley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents are known contributors of chemical mixtures into the environment. Of particular concern are endocrine-disrupting compounds, such as estrogens, which can affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis function in exposed organisms. The present study examined reproductive effects in fathead minnows exposed for 21 d to a historically estrogenic WWTP effluent. Fathead minnow breeding pairs were held in control water or 1 of 3 effluent concentrations (5%, 20%, and 100%) in a novel onsite, flow-through system providing real-time exposure. The authors examined molecular and biochemical endpoints representing key events along adverse outcome pathways linking estrogen receptor activation and other molecular initiating events to reproductive impairment. In addition, the authors used chemical analysis of the effluent to construct a chemical-gene interaction network to aid in targeted gene expression analyses and identifying potentially impacted biological pathways. Cumulative fecundity was significantly reduced in fish exposed to 100% effluent but increased in those exposed to 20% effluent, the approximate dilution factor in the receiving waters. Plasma vitellogenin concentrations in males increased in a dose-dependent manner with effluent concentration; however, male fertility was not impacted. Although in vitro analyses, analytical chemistry, and biomarker responses confirmed the effluent was estrogenic, estrogen receptor agonists were unlikely the primary driver of impaired reproduction. The results provide insights into the significance of pathway-based effects with regard to predicting adverse reproductive outcomes. Environ Toxicol Chem 2016;35:702-716. Published 2015 by Wiley Periodicals Inc. on behalf of SETAC. This article is a US Government work, and as such, is in the public domain in the United States of America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)702-716
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Estrogens
  • Fish
  • Reproduction
  • Wastewater treatment plant


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