Author(s): Segner H
Endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) are widespread in the aquatic environment and can cause alterations in development, physiological homeostasis and health of vertebrates. Zebrafish, Danio rerio, has been suggested as a model species to identify targets as well as modes of EDC action. In fact, zebrafish has been found useful in EDC screening, in EDC effects assessment and in studying targets and mechanisms of EDC action. Since many of the environmental EDCs interfere with the sex steroid system of vertebrates, most EDC studies with zebrafish addressed disruption of sexual differentiation and reproduction. However, other targets of EDCs action must not be overlooked. For using a species as a toxicological model, a good knowledge of the biological traits of this species is a pre-requisite for the rational design of test protocols and endpoints as well as for the interpretation and extrapolation of the toxicological findings. Due to the genomic resources available for zebrafish and the long experience with zebrafish in toxicity testing, it is easily possible to establish molecular endpoints for EDC effects assessment. Additionally, the zebrafish model offers a number of technical advantages including ease and cost of maintenance, rapid development, high fecundity, optical transparency of embryos supporting phenotypic screening, existence of many mutant strains, or amenability for both forward and reverse genetics. To date, the zebrafish has been mainly used to identify molecular targets of EDC action and to determine effect thresholds, while the potential of this model species to study immediate and delayed physiological consequences of molecular interactions has been instrumentalized only partly. One factor that may limit the exploitation of this potential is the still rather fragmentary knowledge of basic biological and endocrine traits of zebrafish. Information on species-specific features in endocrine processes and biological properties, however, need to be considered in establishing EDC test protocols using zebrafish, in extrapolating findings from zebrafish to other vertebrate species, and in understanding how EDC-induced gene expression changes translate into disease.