Tributyltin: Advancing the science on assessing endocrine disruption with an unconventional endocrine-disrupting compound

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Abstract

Tributyltin (TBT) has been recognized as an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) for several decades. However, only in the last decade, was its primary endocrine mechanism of action (MeOA) elucidated—interactions with the nuclear retinoid-X receptor (RXR), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ), and their heterodimers. This molecular initiating event (MIE) alters a range of reproductive, developmental, and metabolic pathways at the organism level. It is noteworthy that a variety of MeOAs have been proposed over the years for the observed endocrine-type effects of TBT; however, convincing data for the MIE was provided only recently and now several researchers have confirmed and refined the information on this MeOA. One of the most important lessons learned from years of research on TBT concerns apparent species sensitivity. Several aspects such as the rates of uptake and elimination, chemical potency, and metabolic capacity are all important for identifying the most sensitive species for a given chemical, including EDCs. For TBT, much of this was discovered by trial and error, hence important relationships and important sensitive taxa were not identified until several decades after its introduction to the environment. As recognized for many years, TBT-induced responses are known to occur at very low concentrations for molluscs, a fact that has more recently also been observed in fish species. This review explores the MeOA and effects of TBT in different species (aquatic molluscs and other invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals) according to the OECD Conceptual Framework for Endocrine Disruptor Testing and Assessment (CFEDTA). The information gathered on biological effects that are relevant for populations of aquatic animals was used to construct Species Sensitivity Distributions (SSDs) based on No Observed Effect Concentrations (NOECs) and Lowest Observed Effect Concentrations (LOECs). Fish appear at the lower end of these distributions, showing that they are as sensitive as molluscs, and for some species, even more sensitive. Concentrations in the range of 1 ng/L for water exposure (10 ng/g for whole-body burden) have been shown to elicit endocrine-type responses, whereas mortality occurs at water concentrations ten times higher. Current screening and assessment methodologies as compiled in the OECD CFEDTA are able to identify TBT as a potent endocrine disruptor with a high environmental risk for the original use pattern. If those approaches had been available when TBT was introduced to the market, it is likely that its use would have been regulated sooner, thus avoiding the detrimental effects on marine gastropod populations and communities as documented over several decades.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Tributyltin: Advancing the science on assessing endocrine disruption with an unconventional endocrine-disrupting compound
DOI 10.1007/398_2017_8
Volume 245
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description 63 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Title Reviews of environmental contamination and toxicology Volume 245
First page 65
Last page 127