The classification of motor neuron defects in the zebrafish embryo toxicity test (ZFET) as an animal alternative approach to assess developmental neurotoxicity
Rodents are widely used to test the developmental neurotoxicity potential of chemical substances. The regulatory test procedures are elaborate and the requirement of numerous animals is ethically disputable. Therefore, non-animal alternatives are highly desirable, but appropriate test systems that meet regulatory demands are not yet available. Hence, we have developed a new developmental neurotoxicity assay based on specific whole-mount immunostainings of primary and secondary motor neurons (using the monoclonal antibodies znp1 and zn8) in zebrafish embryos. By classifying the motor neuron defects, we evaluated the severity of the neurotoxic damage to individual primary and secondary motor neurons caused by chemical exposure and determined the corresponding effect concentration values (EC50). In a proof-of-principle study, we investigated the effects of three model compounds thiocyclam, cartap and disulfiram, which show some neurotoxicity-indicating effects in vertebrates, and the positive controls ethanol and nicotine and the negative controls 3,4-dichloroaniline (3,4-DCA) and triclosan. As a quantitative measure of the neurotoxic potential of the test compounds, we calculated the ratios of the EC50 values for motor neuron defects and the cumulative malformations, as determined in a zebrafish embryo toxicity test (zFET). Based on this index, disulfiram was classified as the most potent and thiocyclam as the least potent developmental neurotoxin. The index also confirmed the control compounds as positive and negative neurotoxicants. Our findings demonstrate that this index can be used to reliably distinguish between neurotoxic and non-neurotoxic chemicals and provide a sound estimate for the neurodevelopmental hazard potential of a chemical. The demonstrated method can be a feasible approach to reduce the number of animals used in developmental neurotoxicity evaluation procedures.