Transcriptomic analysis of short-term 17Α-ethynylestradiol exposure in two Californian sentinel fish species sardine (Sardinops sagax) and mackerel (Scomber japonicus)

Ludivine Renaud, Nisha Agarwal, Dylan J. Richards, Silvia Falcinelli, E. Starr Hazard, Oliana Carnevali, John Hyde, Gary Hardiman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
396 Downloads (Pure)


Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are substances which disrupt normal functioning of the endocrine system by interfering with hormone regulated physiological pathways. Aquatic environments provide the ultimate reservoir for many EDCs as they enter rivers and the ocean via effluent discharges and accumulate in sediments. One EDC widely dispersed in municipal wastewater effluent discharges is 17α-ethynylestradiol (EE2), which is one of the most widely prescribed medicines. EE2 is a bio-active estrogen employed in the majority of oral contraceptive pill formulations. As evidence of the health risks posed by EDCs mount, there is an urgent need to improve diagnostic tools for monitoring the effects of pollutants. As the cost of high throughput sequencing (HTS) diminishes, transcriptional profiling of an organism in response to EDC perturbation presents a cost-effective way of screening a wide range of endocrine responses. Coastal pelagic filter feeding fish species analyzed using HTS provide an excellent tool for EDC risk assessment in the marine environment. Unfortunately, there are limited genome sequence data and annotation for many of these species including Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax) and chub mackerel (Scomber japonicus), which limits the utility of molecular tools such as HTS to interrogate the effects of endocrine disruption. In this study, we carried out RNA sequencing (RNAseq) of liver RNA harvested from wild sardine and mackerel exposed for 5 h under laboratory conditions to a concentration of 12.5 pM EE2 in the tank water. We developed an analytical framework for transcriptomic analyses of species with limited genomic information. EE2 exposure altered expression patterns of key genes involved in important metabolic and physiological processes. The systems approach presented here provides a powerful tool for obtaining a comprehensive picture of endocrine disruption in aquatic organisms. The development of a framework for RNAseq analysis in sentinel species that lack genomic sequence allowed us to determine that environmental levels of EE2 disrupted basic biological processes and pathways in both male sardine and mackerel, leading to molecular signatures of metabolic, hormonal and immune dysfunction, as well as carcinogenesis in exposed fish and provided novel biomarkers for diagnostic use in monitoring ocean environmental health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)926-937
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date20 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2019


  • 17α-ethynylestradiol
  • Endocrine disrupting chemicals
  • Genomic biomarkers
  • Mackerel
  • RNA sequencing
  • Sardine
  • Xenobiotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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