Estetrol has a lower impact than 17α-ethinylestradiol on the reproductive capacity of zebrafish (Danio rerio)

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Natural and synthetic oestrogens are commonly found in aquatic ecosystems. The synthetic oestrogen 17α-ethinylestradiol (EE2) is widely used in oral contraceptives and its ecotoxicological effects on aquatic organisms have been widely reported. The natural oestrogen estetrol (E4) was recently approved for use in a new combined oral contraceptive and, after therapeutic use, is likely to be found in the aquatic environment. However, its potential effects on non-target species such as fish is unknown. In order to characterize and compare the endocrine disruptive potential of E4 with EE2, zebrafish (Danio rerio) were exposed to E4 or EE2 in a fish short-term reproduction assay conducted according to OECD Test Guideline 229. Sexually mature male and female fish were exposed to a range of concentrations, including environmentally relevant concentrations of E4 and EE2, for 21 days. Endpoints included fecundity, fertilization success, gonad histopathology, head/tail vitellogenin concentrations, as well as transcriptional analysis of genes related to ovarian sex steroid hormones synthesis. Our data confirmed the strong impact of EE2 on several parameters including an inhibition of fecundity, an induction of vitellogenin both in male and female fish, an alteration of gonadal structures and the modulation of genes involved in sex steroid hormone synthesis in female fish. In contrast, only few significant effects were observed with E4 with no impact on fecundity. The results suggest that the natural oestrogen, E4, presents a more favorable environmental profile than EE2 and is less likely to affect fish reproductive capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106505
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Endocrine disruptor
  • Estetrol
  • Ethinylestradiol
  • Reproduction
  • Zebrafish


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