Insights into the Influence of Natural Retinoic Acids on Imposex Induction in Female Marine Gastropods in the Coastal Environment

Guang Jie ZHOU*, Kevin K.Y. HO, Jack C.H. IP, Shan LIU, Jianying HU, John P. GIESY, Kenneth M.Y. LEUNG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Conventionally, development of imposex, i.e., superimposition of male sexual characteristics on females, in marine neogastropods has been solely linked to exposure to synthetic organotin compounds, such as triphenyltin (TPT), in the marine environment. Here, our experimental results show that marine cyanobacteria can produce retinoic acids (RAs) and their oxidative metabolites 4-oxo-RAs, and the most commonly distributed RA, i.e., all-trans-RA, can also trigger expression of genes related to imposex in female whelks Reishia clavigera after chronic exposure of 60 days. Both estimated concentrations of TPT and RAs and 4-oxo-RAs in seawater are positively associated with the Vas Deferens Sequence Index (VDSI) in female whelks collected from various sites along the coast of Hong Kong; the concentration of TPT explains 28% of the total variation of VDSI, while the total concentrations of RAs and 4-oxo-RAs contributed to 14% of the variation based on separate regression analyses. Our discoveries have implications on the cause and magnitude of imposex in marine neogastropods, calling for more research in ecotoxicology of natural RAs and 4-oxo-RAs in the marine environment in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1002-1008
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology Letters
Issue number11
Early online date11 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong SAR Government via the General Research Fund (Projects No. 17126517 and No. 11307121) and the Theme-based Research Scheme (Project No. T21-711/16-R) to KMYL. G.-J. Zhou was supported by the State Key Laboratory of Marine Pollution, City University of Hong Kong. Prof. Giesy was supported by the Canada Research Chair program, 2012 “High Level Foreign Experts” (#GDT20143200016) program funded by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, P.R. China to Nanjing University, Einstein Professor Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship in the School of Biological Sciences of the University of Hong Kong. The authors are grateful to Gilbert Lui from The University of Hong Kong for toxicity model construction, Helen Leung, Apple Chu, Cecily Law, Grace Chau, and Sora Cheung for technical support, and helpers involved in sample collection in the field.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Chemical Society.


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