Assessing the neurotoxic potential of environmental pollutants

March 23, 2023, 4.00 pm - 5.00 pm

Eawag Dübendorf, room FC-C20 & Online

Speaker: Dr Colette vom Berg, Department Environmental Toxicology, Eawag, Dübendorf, Switzerland

Please contact for access details to join online via zoom.


The increasing occurrence of pollutants such as insecticides, personal care products or pharmaceuticals in our aquatic environment has become an environmental issue of global concern. Their toxic potential poses a threat not only to human health but also to aquatic organisms. In fact, fish populations decline while the reasons are not well understood and anthropogenic environmental pollution likely plays an important role. Chemical interference with the nervous system potentially alters behavioral responses such as mating, predator avoidance or feeding, resulting in reduced survival chances of an animal. However, the assessment of the neurotoxicity of chemicals so far is limited to few compounds and target organisms. Hence, there is a great demand for the mechanistic understanding of the neurotoxic potential of these environmental pollutants and for the development of meaningful methods for the assessment of neurotoxicity. Understanding the mechanism underlying a chemically-induced change in behavior is essential for toxicology in order to better predict the risk a contaminant poses on the environment beyond an immediately lethal concentration as usually assessed in traditional toxicity testing. Moreover, identifying molecular targets of contaminants might also result in finding potential indicators, which can be used to monitor the health of natural populations or for the development of in vitro assays.

We are investigating molecular and neuronal mechanistic underpinnings by which environmental pollutants affect the fish nervous system and behavior. Using the zebrafish as a model, we are tackling how insecticides with different modes of action influence space use, locomotor behavior, neuromuscular development as well as the potential to recover from behavioral impairments. Moreover, we are assessing the impact of neuroactive pharmaceuticals on horizontal and vertical behavior and tackle molecular pathways underlying inter-individual differences. In this talk, I will give an overview on our latest research results.