Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 32, pp 32196–32209 | Cite as

The impact of propranolol, 17α-ethinylestradiol, and gemfibrozil on early life stages of marine organisms: effects and risk assessment

  • Marco CapolupoEmail author
  • Beatriz Díaz-Garduño
  • Maria Laura Martín-Díaz
Research Article


Pharmaceuticals are ubiquitously detected in the marine environment at the ng–μg/L range. Given their biological activity, these compounds are known to induce detrimental effects on biota at relatively low exposure levels; however, whether they affect early life stages of marine species is still unclear. In this study, a set of bioassays was performed to assess the effects of propranolol (PROP), 17-α ethinylestradiol (EE2), and gemfibrozil (GEM) on gamete fertilization and embryonic development of mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) and sea urchins (Paracentrotus lividus), and on the survival of seabream (Sparus aurata) larvae. Treatments of PROP (500, 5000, 50,000 ng/L), EE2 (5, 50, 500 ng/L), and GEM (50, 500, 5000 ng/L) were selected to encompass levels comparable or superior to environmental concentrations. Obtained data were tested for dose-response curve fitting and the lowest EC10/LC10 used to calculate risk quotients (RQs) based on the MEC/PNEC. No alteration was induced by PROP on the mussel gamete fertilization, while inhibitory effects were observed at environmental levels of EE2 (500 ng/L) and GEM (5000 ng/L). Fertilization was significantly reduced in sea urchin at all PROP and EE2 dosages. The 48-h exposure to all pharmaceuticals induced the onset of morphological abnormalities in either mussel or sea urchin embryos. Alterations were generally observed at environmentally relevant dosages, except for PROP in mussels, in which alterations occurred only at 50,000 ng/L. A decreased survival of seabream larvae was recorded after 96-h exposure to PROP (all treatments), EE2 (50–500 ng/L), and GEM (500 ng/L). A median RQ > 1 was obtained for all pharmaceuticals, assigning a high risk to their occurrence in marine environments. Overall, results showed that current levels of contamination by pharmaceuticals can impact early stages of marine species, which represent critical junctures in the resilience of coastal ecosystems.


Pharmaceuticals Marine species Early-life stages Gamete fertilization Embryotoxicity Risk assessment 



This work has been supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Ref. CTM2012-37591) and by the grant provided to M. Capolupo by the Erasmus Mundus PhD Programme in Marine and Coastal Management (MACOMA—SGA No. 2014-0693/001-001-EMJD).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11356_2018_3185_MOESM1_ESM.doc (72 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 71 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marco Capolupo
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Beatriz Díaz-Garduño
    • 3
  • Maria Laura Martín-Díaz
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biological, Geological, and Environmental SciencesUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  2. 2.Inter-Departmental Research Centre for Environmental Science (CIRSA)University of BolognaRavennaItaly
  3. 3.Physical Chemical Department, Institute of Marine Research (INMAR), International Campus of Excellence of the Sea (CEIMAR), Faculty of Marine and Environmental SciencesUniversity of CadizPuerto RealSpain

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