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Potential toxicity of complex mixtures in surface waters from a nationwide survey of United States streams: Identifying in vitro bioactivities and causative chemicals

January 28, 2019

While chemical analysis of contaminant mixtures remains an essential component of environmental monitoring, bioactivity-based assessments using in vitro systems increasingly play a role in the detection of biological effects. Historically, in vitro assessments focused on a few biological pathways, e.g., aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) or estrogen receptor (ER) activities. High-throughput screening (HTS) technologies have greatly increased the number of biological targets and processes that can be rapidly assessed. Here we screened extracts of surface waters from nationwide survey of United States (US) streams for bioactivities associated with 69 different endpoints using two multiplexed HTS assays. Bioactivity of extracts from 38streams was evaluated and compared with concentrations of over 700 analytes to identify chemicals contributing to observed effects. Eleven primary biological endpoints were detected. Pregnane X receptor and AhR-mediated activities were the most commonly detected. Measured chemicals did not completely account for AhR and PXR responses. Surface waters with AhR and PXR effects were associated with low intensity, developed land-cover. Likewise, elevated bioactivities frequently associated with wastewater discharges included endocrine related endpoints— ER and glucocorticoid receptor (GR). These results underscore the value of bioassay-based monitoring of environmental mixtures for detecting biological effects that could not be ascertained solely through chemical analyses.

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