Effects of the pharmaceuticals gemfibrozil and diclofenac on biomarker expression in the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) and their comparison with standardised toxicity tests

Brian Quinn, Wiebke Schmidt, Kathleen O'Rourke, Robert Hernan

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97 Citations (Scopus)


Pharmaceuticals, including the lipid regulator gemfibrozil and the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac have been identified in waste water treatment plant effluents and receiving waters throughout the western world. The acute and chronic toxicity of these compounds was assessed for three freshwater species (Daphnia magna, Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata, Lemna minor) using standardised toxicity tests with toxicity found in the non-environmentally relevant mid mg L(-1) concentration range. For the acute endpoints (IC(50) and EC(50)) gemfibrozil showed higher toxicity ranging from 29 to 59 mg L(-1) (diclofenac 47-67 mg L(-1)). while diclofenac was more toxic for the chronic D. magna 21 d endpoints ranging from 10 to 56 mg L(-1) (gemfibrozil 32-100 mg L(-1)). These results were compared with the expression of several biomarkers in the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) 24 and 96 h after exposure by injection to concentrations of 21 and 21,000 mu g L(-1) corresponding to nominal concentrations of 1 and 1000 mu g L(-1). Exposure to gemfibrozil and diclofenac at both concentrations significantly increased the level of lipid peroxidation, a biomarker of damage. At the elevated nominal concentration of 1000 mu g L(-1) the biomarkers of defence glutathione transferase and metallothionein were significantly elevated for gemfibrozil and diclofenac respectively, as was DNA damage after 96 h exposure to gemfibrozil. No evidence of endocrine disruption was observed using the alkali-labile phosphate technique. Results from this suite of biomarkers indicate these compounds can cause significant stress at environmentally relevant concentrations acting primarily through oxidation pathways with significant destabilization of the lysosomal membrane and that biomarker expression is a more sensitive endpoint than standardised toxicity tests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)657-663
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Gemfibrozil
  • Diclofenac
  • Zebra mussel
  • Biomarker
  • Toxicity
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Pollution
  • Freshwater

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