Waterborne uranium causes toxic effect and thyroid disruption in zebrafish larvae


• The effects of uranium on development and thyroid system of zebrafish were assessed.
• Uranium could bioaccumulate in zebrafish bodies.
• Uranium affected the development and locomotor behavior of zebrafish.
• The levels of thyroid hormones in zebrafish were changed after uranium exposure.
• Negative feedback loops through HPT axis-related genes regulated thyroid hormones.


Uranium is a radioactive element that is widely present in aquatic environment. However, limited knowledge is available about the effect of uranium on thyroid system, which plays a key role in the development of animals. In this study, zebrafish embryos were exposed to different environmentally relevant concentrations of uranium (2, 20 and 100 μg/L) for 120 h. The bioaccumulation, developmental toxicities, changes of thyroid hormones (THs) and key genes related to the hypothalamic–pituitary–thyroid (HPT) axis in larvae were analyzed after exposure. Results showed that uranium could bioaccumulate in zebrafish larvae, with the bioconcentration factors ranging from 49.6 to 523. Consequently, significant developmental toxicities and changes in locomotor activities were observed with a concentration-dependent manner. The levels of triiodothyronine (T3) levels in larvae were substantially decreased, whereas those of thyroxine (T4) were increased in fish bodies. The levels of THs were regulated by the negative feedback loops through HPT axis related genes, most of which (NIS, Deio1, Deio2, TRα, TSHβ and UGT1ab) were significantly depressed after exposure to uranium. Our results suggest the potential toxicities and thyroid disruption of uranium on zebrafish, which would provide baseline data set for better understanding the impact of waterborne uranium on aquatic organisms and the associated mechanisms. This study also highlights the key role of thyroid disruption in the ecological risk assessment of uranium pollution.

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