The state of in vitro science for use in bioaccumulation assessments for fish

Anne V. Weisbrod, Jasminder Sahi, Helmut Segner, Margaret O. James, John Nichols, Irvin Schultz, Susan Erhardt, Christina Cowan-Ellsberry, Mark Bonnell, Birgit Hoeger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Through the concerted evaluations of thousands of commercial substances for the qualities of persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity as a result of the United Nations Environment Program's Stockholm Convention, it has become apparent that fewer empirical data are available on bioaccumulation than other endpoints and that bioaccumulation models were not designed to accommodate all chemical classes. Due to the number of chemicals that may require further assessment, in vivo testing is cost prohibitive and discouraged due to the large number of animals needed. Although in vitro systems are less developed and characterized for fish, multiple high-throughput in vitro assays have been used to explore the dietary uptake and elimination of pharmaceuticals and other xenobiotics by mammals. While similar processes determine bioaccumulation in mammalian species, a review of methods to measure chemical bioavailability in fish screening systems, such as chemical biotransformation or metabolism in tissue slices, perfused tissues, fish embryos, primary and immortalized cell lines, and subcellular fractions, suggest quantitative and qualitative differences between fish and mammals exist. Using in vitro data in assessments for whole organisms or populations requires certain considerations and assumptions to scale data from a test tube to a fish, and across fish species. Also, different models may incorporate the predominant site of metabolism, such as the liver, and significant presystemic metabolism by the gill or gastrointestinal system to help accurately convert in vitro data into representative whole-animal metabolism and subsequent bioaccumulation potential. The development of animal alternative tests for fish bioaccumulation assessment is framed in the context of in vitro data requirements for regulatory assessments in Europe and Canada.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-96
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Absorption
  • Bioaccumulation
  • Biotransformation
  • In vitro
  • Metabolism


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