Acute exposure to PBDEs at an environmentally realistic concentration causes abrupt changes in the gut microbiota and host health of zebrafish

Lianguo CHEN, Chenyan HU, Nelson Lok-Shun LAI, Weipeng ZHANG, Jianghuan HUA, Paul K. S. LAM, Chung Wah James LAM, Bingsheng ZHOU

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Citations (Scopus)


Contamination from lower brominated PBDEs is ubiquitous in the environments. However, their effects on gut microbiota and intestinal health have not yet been investigated. This study exposed adult zebrafish to an environmentally realistic concentration of pentaBDE mixture (DE-71) at 5.0 ng/L for 7 days, after which metagenomic sequencing of the intestinal microbiome was conducted and host physiological activities in the intestine and liver were also examined. The results showed that acute exposure to DE-71 significantly shifted the gut microbial community in a sex-specific manner. Certain genera (e.g., Mycoplasma, Ruminiclostridium, unclassified Firmicutes sensu stricto, and Fusobacterium) disappeared from the DE-71-exposed intestines, resulting in decreased bacterial diversity. Bacterial metabolic functions in guts were also affected by DE-71, namely those covering energy metabolism, virulence, respiration, cell division, cell signaling, and stress response. In addition, measurement of diverse sensitive biomarkers showed that the health of male intestines was remarkably compromised by the DE-71 exposure, as indicated by the disruption to its neural signaling (serotonin), epithelial barrier integrity (tight junction protein 2), inflammatory response (interleukin 1β), oxidative stress and antioxidant capacity, as well as detoxifying potential (ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase activity). However, female intestines maintained intact physiological activities. Compared to the direct impact on intestines, a latent effect of DE-71 was observed in livers. Co-occurrence network analysis demonstrated that the gut bacteria vigorously interacted to establish the fittest community under DE-71 stress by promoting the reproduction of favorable genera, while diminishing the survival of unfavorable ones. Significant correlations between the zebrafish gut microbiota and physiological activities (e.g., oxidative stress, detoxification, neurotransmission, and epithelial integrity) were also observed. Overall, this study has demonstrated, for the first time, the high susceptibility of gut microbiota and intestinal health of zebrafish to DE-71, thus warranting more work to reveal its mode of toxicity. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-26
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online dateMay 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018



Chen, L., Hu, C., Lai, N. L.-S., Zhang, W., Hua, J., Lam, P. K. S., . . . Zhou, B. (2018). Acute exposure to PBDEs at an environmentally realistic concentration causes abrupt changes in the gut microbiota and host health of zebrafish. Environmental Pollution, 240, 17-26. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.04.062


  • Gut microbiota
  • PBDEs
  • Zebrafish
  • Intestinal health
  • Metagenome