Aquatic Toxicology

Mechanisms involved in tributyltin-enhanced aggressive behaviors and fear responses in male zebrafish

Publication date: March 2020

Source: Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 220

Author(s): Zhi-Hao Liu, Ying-Wen Li, Wei Hu, Qi-Liang Chen, Yan-Jun Shen


Tributyltin (TBT), an aromatase inhibitor, has been found to disrupt gametogenesis and reproductive behavior in several fish species. However, whether TBT is capable of affecting other behaviors such as aggressive behavior and fear response in fish and the underlying mode(s) of action remain unclear. To study aggressive behavior, adult zebrafish (Danio rerio) males were continuously exposed to two nominal concentrations of TBT (TBT-low, 100 ng/L and TBT-high, 500 ng/L) for 28 days. To study the fear response, the fish were divided into four groups (Blank and Control, 0 ng/L TBT; TBT-low, 100 ng/L; and TBT-high, 500 ng/L). The fish were then treated with DW (Blank) or with alarm substance (AS) (Control, TBT-low and TBT-high). After exposure, the aggressive behavior of the fish was tested using the mirror test (mirror-biting frequency, approaches to the mirror and duration in approach zone).and fighting test (fish-biting frequency) The mirror-biting frequency, approaches to the mirror, duration in approach zone and fish-biting frequency of the TBT-exposed fish increased significantly compared to those of the control fish, indicating enhanced aggressive behavior. The fear response parameters tested using the novel tank dive test (onset time to the higher half, total duration in the lower half and the frequency of turning) of the TBT-exposed fish were also significantly increased after AS administration, suggesting an enhanced fear response. Further investigation revealed that TBT treatment elevated the plasma level of 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) and decreased the plasma level of estradiol (E2) in a concentration-dependent manner. Moreover, TBT up-regulated the mRNA levels of ar, c-fos and bdnf1, and suppressed the expression of btg-2 in fish. In addition, exposure to AS increased the plasma level of cortisol and down-regulated the mRNA expression levels of genes involved in 5-HT synthesis (such as tph1b and pet1) in both control and TBT-treated fish. AS significantly suppressed the mRNA level of tph1b, tph2, pet1 and npy in the TBT-high group compared to the control fish. The present study demonstrates that TBT enhances aggressive behavior and fear responses in male zebrafish probably through altering plasma levels of 11-KT, E2 and cortisol and altering the expression of genes involved in the regulation of aggressive behavior (ar, c-fos, bdnf1 and btg-2) and fear responses (tph1b, tph2, pet1 and npy). The present study greatly extends our understanding of the behavioral toxicity of TBT to fish.