Evaluation of Developmental Toxicity, Developmental Neurotoxicity, and Tissue Dose in Zebrafish Exposed to GenX and Other PFAS

By Shaza Gaballah, Adam Swank, Jon R Sobus, Xia Meng Howey, Judith Schmid, Tara Catron, James McCord, Erin Hines, Mark Strynar, and Tamara Tal
Environ. Health Perspect.
April 14, 2020
DOI: 10.1289/EHP5843


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a diverse class of industrial chemicals with widespread environmental occurrence. Exposure to long-chain PFAS is associated with developmental toxicity, prompting their replacement with short-chain and fluoroether compounds. There is growing public concern over the safety of replacement PFAS.


We aimed to group PFAS based on shared toxicity phenotypes.


Zebrafish were developmentally exposed to 4,8-dioxa-3H-perfluorononanoate (ADONA), perfluoro-2-propoxypropanoic acid (GenX Free Acid), perfluoro-3,6-dioxa-4-methyl-7-octene-1-sulfonic acid (PFESA1), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), perfluoro--octanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), or 0.4% dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) daily from 0-5 d post fertilization (dpf). At 6 dpf, developmental toxicity and developmental neurotoxicity assays were performed, and targeted analytical chemistry was used to measure media and tissue doses. To test whether aliphatic sulfonic acid PFAS cause the same toxicity phenotypes, perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS; 4-carbon), perfluoropentanesulfonic acid (PFPeS; 5-carbon), PFHxS (6-carbon), perfluoroheptanesulfonic acid (PFHpS; 7-carbon), and PFOS (8-carbon) were evaluated.


PFHxS or PFOS exposure caused failed swim bladder inflation, abnormal ventroflexion of the tail, and hyperactivity at nonteratogenic concentrations. Exposure to PFHxA resulted in a unique hyperactivity signature. ADONA, PFESA1, or PFOA exposure resulted in detectable levels of parent compound in larval tissue but yielded negative toxicity results. GenX was unstable in DMSO, but stable and negative for toxicity when diluted in deionized water. Exposure to PFPeS, PFHxS, PFHpS, or PFOS resulted in a shared toxicity phenotype characterized by body axis and swim bladder defects and hyperactivity.


All emerging fluoroether PFAS tested were negative for evaluated outcomes. Two unique toxicity signatures were identified arising from structurally dissimilar PFAS. Among sulfonic acid aliphatic PFAS, chemical potencies were correlated with increasing carbon chain length for developmental neurotoxicity, but not developmental toxicity. This study identified relationships between chemical structures and phenotypes that may arise from shared mechanisms of PFAS toxicity. These data suggest that developmental neurotoxicity is an important end point to consider for this class of widely occurring environmental chemicals. 

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