Evaluation of whole-mount in situ hybridization as a tool for pathway-based toxicological research with early-life stage fathead minnows

J. E. Cavallin, A. L. Schroeder, K. M. Jensen, D. L. Villeneuve, B. R. Blackwell, K. Carlson, M. D. Kahl, Carlie A LaLone, E. C. Randolph, G. T. Ankley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Early-life stage fish can be more sensitive to toxicants than adults, so delineating mechanisms of perturbation of biological pathways by chemicals during this life stage is crucial. Whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH) paired with quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) assays can enhance pathway-based analyses through determination of specific tissues where changes in gene expression are occurring. While WISH has frequently been used in zebrafish (Danio rerio), this technology has not previously been applied to fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas), another well-established small fish model species. The objective of the present study was to adapt WISH to fathead minnow embryos and larvae, and use the approach to evaluate the effects of estrone, an environmentally-relevant estrogen receptor (ER) agonist. Embryos were exposed via the water to 0, 18 or 1800 ng. estrone/L (0, 0.067 and 6.7. nM) for 3 or 6 days in a solvent-free, flow-through test system. Relative transcript abundance of three estrogen-responsive genes, estrogen receptor-α (esr1), cytochrome P450-aromatase B (cyp19b), and vitellogenin (vtg) was examined in pooled whole embryos using QPCR, and the spatial distribution of up-regulated gene transcripts was examined in individual fish using WISH. After 3 days of exposure to 1800 ng. estrone/L, esr1 and cyp19b were significantly up-regulated, while vtg mRNA expression was not affected. After 6 days of exposure to 1800 ng. estrone/L, transcripts for all three genes were significantly up-regulated. Corresponding WISH assays revealed spatial distribution of esr1 and vtg in the liver region, an observation consistent with activation of the hepatic ER. This study clearly demonstrates the potential utility of WISH, in conjunction with QPCR, to examine the mechanistic basis of the effects of toxicants on early-life stage fathead minnows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-26
Number of pages8
JournalAquatic Toxicology
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Adverse outcome pathway
  • Development
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Fathead minnow

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Evaluation of whole-mount in situ hybridization as a tool for pathway-based toxicological research with early-life stage fathead minnows'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this