Estrogenicity of chemical mixtures revealed by a panel of bioassays

Livia Gomez, Magdalena Niegowska, Anna Navarro, Luca Amendola, Augustine Arukwe, Selim Ait-Aissa, Stefania Balzamo, Salvatore Barreca, Shimshon Belkin, Michal Bittner, Ludek Blaha, Sebastian Buchinger, Maddalena Busetto, Mario Carere, Luisa Colzani, Pierluisa Dellavedova, Nancy Denslow, Beate I. Escher, Christer Hogstrand, Essa Ahsan KhanMaria König, Kevin J. Kroll, Ines Lacchetti, Emmanuelle Maillot-Marechal, Liat Moscovici, Monoca Potalivo, Isabella Sanseverino, Ricardo Santos, Andrea Schifferli, Rita Schlichting, Susanna Sforzini, Eszter Simon, Etai Shpigel, Stephen Sturzenbaum, Etienne Vermeirssen, Aldo Viarengo, Inge Werner, Teresa Lettieri

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Estrogenic compounds are widely released to surface waters and may cause adverse effects to sensitive aquatic species. Three hormones, estrone, 17β-estradiol and 17α-ethinylestradiol, are of particular concern as they are bioactive at very low concentrations. Current analytical methods are not all sensitive enough for monitoring these substances in water and do not cover mixture effects. Bioassays could complement chemical analysis since they detect the overall effect of complex mixtures. Here, four chemical mixtures and two hormone mixtures were prepared and tested as reference materials together with two environmental water samples by eight laboratories employing nine in vitro and in vivo bioassays covering different steps involved in the estrogenic response. The reference materials included priority substances under the European Water Framework Directive, hormones and other emerging pollutants. Each substance in the mixture was present at its proposed safety limit concentration (EQS) in the European legislation. The in vitro bioassays detected the estrogenic effect of chemical mixtures even when 17β-estradiol was not present but differences in responsiveness were observed. LiBERA was the most responsive, followed by LYES. The additive effect of the hormones was captured by ERα-CALUX, MELN, LYES and LiBERA. Particularly, all in vitro bioassays detected the estrogenic effects in environmental water samples (EEQ values in the range of 0.75–304 × EQS), although the concentrations of hormones were below the limit of quantification in analytical measurements. The present study confirms the applicability of reference materials for estrogenic effects' detection through bioassays and indicates possible methodological drawbacks of some of them that may lead to false negative/positive outcomes. The observed difference in responsiveness among bioassays – based on mixture composition - is probably due to biological differences between them, suggesting that panels of bioassays with different characteristics should be applied according to specific environmental pollution conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number147284
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


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