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Toxicity testing of pesticides in zebrafish—a systematic review on chemicals and associated toxicological endpoints

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The use of zebrafish (Danio rerio) has arisen as a promising biological platform for toxicity testing of pesticides such as herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. Therefore, it is relevant to assess the use of zebrafish in models of exposure to investigate the diversity of pesticide-associated toxicity endpoints which have been reported. Thus, this review aimed to assess the recent literature on the use of zebrafish in pesticide toxicity studies to capture data on the types of pesticide used, classes of pesticides, and zebrafish life stages associated with toxicity endpoints and phenotypic observations. A total of 352 articles published between September 2012 and May 2019 were curated. The results show an increased trend in the use of zebrafish for testing the toxicity of pesticides, with a great diversity of pesticides (203) and chemical classes (58) with different applications (41) being used. Furthermore, experimental outcomes could be clustered in 13 toxicity endpoints, mainly developmental toxicity, oxidative stress, and neurotoxicity. Organophosphorus, pyrethroid, azole, and triazine were the most studied classes of pesticides and associated with various toxicity endpoints. Studies frequently opted for early life stages (embryos and larvae). Although there is an evident lack of standardization of nomenclatures and phenotypic alterations, the information gathered here highlights associations between (classes of) pesticides and endpoints, which can be used to relate mechanisms of action specific to certain classes of chemicals.

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Adverse outcome pathway












Endocrine-disrupting chemicals


European Union


Fish Embryo Toxicity Assay


Glutathione peroxidase


Glutathione S-transferase











LC50 :

Lethal concentration at which 50% of the population if killed in a given period of time


Tricaine methanesulfonate




Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


Organophosphate flame retardants


Parkinson’s disease


Persistent organic pollutants


Reactive oxygen species


Superoxide dismutase


EPA’s Toxicity Forecaster


United States Environmental Protection Agency


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We thank to Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), Brazil, for supporting this research with grants and scholarships, and to Ms. Marta Silva Muniz for contributing with revision of the English manuscript.


Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), Brazil, grant number 461182-9.

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I.F.S.G., T.M.S., L.R.V., F.C.M., A.P.N., and D.F.F. designed and conducted the literature review and wrote the manuscript. All authors approved the submitted version.

Correspondence to Terezinha Maria Souza or Davi Felipe Farias.

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- The zebrafish is being increasingly used for testing the toxicity of pesticides.

- Thirteen pesticide-associated toxicity endpoints in zebrafish were documented.

- Developmental toxicity was the endpoint most reported across studies.

- Studies greatly opted for early zebrafish life stages (embryos and larvae).

- There is an evident lack of standardization of nomenclatures in zebrafish testing.

Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Gonçalves, Í.F.S., Souza, T.M., Vieira, L.R. et al. Toxicity testing of pesticides in zebrafish—a systematic review on chemicals and associated toxicological endpoints. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-020-07902-5

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  • Danio rerio
  • Fungicide
  • Herbicide
  • Insecticide
  • Organophosphorus
  • Pesticide toxicity
  • Toxicity endpoints
  • Zebrafish embryos