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Pharmaceutical drugs in aquatic environments

Commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals are increasingly common in water bodies. Scientists studied the effects of this on gene and protein expression in a non-target fish species.
Pharmaceutical drugs in aquatic environments
Scientists initiated the EU-funded project ERA4PHARM to study three of the most widely used pharmaceuticals to evaluate their genetic effects and the molecular mechanisms of higher-level impairment.

Researchers investigated long-term effects of acetaminophen (APAP, an analgesic and antipyretic), carbamazepine (CBZ, an anti-convulsant and anti-depressant) and atenolol (AT, an anti-hypertensive) on one-year old gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata). They used changes in gene and protein expression in liver and brain as indicators of effects.

Exposure to all compounds at environmentally relevant concentrations produced changes in gene expression in the brain. The largest effect was seen after exposure to CBZ followed relatively closely by APAP, whereas minimal effects were produced on AT exposure. In addition, although some differences were shared, some were different, thus supporting potential biomarkers of exposure to specific drugs.

Automated gene enrichment analysis was performed to assign biological meaning to the changes in gene expression. CBZ exposure was associated with a number of altered functions, including glycosylation (addition of sugars to molecules such as proteins), RNA metabolic processes and DNA-dependent transcription. In addition, evidence supported activity as an endocrine disruptor. APAP changes were associated with epithelium development and morphogenesis, as well as with transcription and RNA metabolic processes. Further, a number of similarities were found between effects on seabream and those on rodents and humans, indicating a high degree of conservation of the genetic targets of these compounds.

ERA4PHARM contributed important information regarding the effects of widely used pharmaceuticals on gene and protein expression, and pointed to potential biomarkers of exposure to the various drugs. Studies also highlighted the possibility of using seabream as an animal model of human effects given highly conserved gene targets of the compounds. Data provided further the support of previous evidence suggesting that CBZ is an endocrine disruptor.

Taken together, ERA4PHARM results advanced limited existing knowledge regarding the effects of common pharmaceuticals that are often detected in water bodies, and should facilitate monitoring campaigns for greater safety in the future.

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