Are synthetic glucocorticoids in the aquatic environment a risk to fish?

Charles M. Hamilton, Matthew J. Winter, Luigi Margiotta-Casaluci, Stewart F. Owen, Charles R. Tyler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The glucocorticosteroid, or glucocorticoid (GC), system is largely conserved across vertebrates and plays a central role in numerous vital physiological processes including bone development, immunomodulation, and modification of glucose metabolism and the induction of stress-related behaviours. As a result of their wide-ranging actions, synthetic GCs are widely prescribed for numerous human and veterinary therapeutic purposes and consequently have been detected extensively within the aquatic environment. Synthetic GCs designed for humans are pharmacologically active in non-mammalian vertebrates, including fish, however they are generally detected in surface waters at low (ng/L) concentrations. In this review, we assess the potential environmental risk of synthetic GCs to fish by comparing available experimental data and effect levels in fish with those in mammals. We found the majority of compounds were predicted to have insignificant risk to fish, however some compounds were predicted to be of moderate and high risk to fish, although the dataset of compounds used for this analysis was small. Given the common mode of action and high level of inter-species target conservation exhibited amongst the GCs, we also give due consideration to the potential for mixture effects, which may be particularly significant when considering the potential for environmental impact from this class of pharmaceuticals. Finally, we also provide recommendations for further research to more fully understand the potential environmental impact of this relatively understudied group of commonly prescribed human and veterinary drugs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107163
JournalEnvironment International
Early online date28 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Ecotoxicology
  • Fish
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Read-across


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