The reproductive capacity of aquatic organisms is of great significance to the maintenance of population density and the stability of aquatic ecosystem (Arcand-Hoy and Benson, 1998; Nassar and Fahmy, 2015). However, many environmental pollutants, especially pesticides (such as glyphosate, dimethylbenzene and pretilachlor), have been reported to have significant inhibitory effects on the reproductive capacity of fish in rivers and oceans (Gupta and Verma, 2020; Soni and Verma, 2020; Uren Webster et al., 2014). Similarly, in this study, it was found that cyhalofop-butyl had a significant inhibitory effect on the reproductive capacity of zebrafish. During the whole life cycle of zebrafish embryos exposed to CyB, the gonad index (GSI) of both male and female zebrafish showed a downward trend. The herbicide changes the content of sex hormones and vitellogenin to different degrees, and the relative expression of genes related to HPGL axis was disturbed, which affected the reproduction of the parent zebrafish, leading to the decline of reproductive capacity and fertilization capacity. In addition, harmful effects of parental zebrafish can be transferred to offspring, resulting in abnormal embryo development of F1 zebrafish.
The results showed that after exposure to CyB for 120d, the average accumulated egg production of zebrafish decreased significantly with the extension of exposure time under the environment-related concentration of CyB (0.01µg/L), and severe reproductive inhibition was observed in the treatment groups with high concentrations of CyB (1 and 10 µg /L). The relative oviposition of zebrafish decreased by 45% and 46% during the whole exposure period, respectively. Although GSI is usually a quantitative indicator of sexual maturity and ovarian development of vertebrates (Pyle et al., 2005; Van den Belt et al., 2002), the value of GSI is often affected by other factors, such as oviposition cycle, the determination of GSI may not be as sensitive as gonad histology analysis in the evaluation of reproductive toxicity. In the study, compared with the control group, the fecundity in 10 µg /L CyB exposed group decreased significantly, and the percentage of LV decreased by 9%, while the GSI value did not change significantly. A similar change was observed after 21 days of exposure to zebrafish with 1mg/L boscalid. The female fish's fertility decreased, and the oocyte stage distribution in the ovary was abnormal, but the GSI value did not change (Qian et al., 2020). At the same time, CyB exposure also significantly affected the reproductive system of male zebrafish. 1 µg/ L and 10 µg/ L CyB groups resulted in the inhibition of spermatogenesis in the testis of male fish. Inhibition of parental spermatogenesis may affect the fertilization rate of F1 generation. Similarly, the study found that the chronic exposure of azoxystrobin 200 µg/L also lead to inhibited spermatogenesis of zebrafish males and decreased fertilization rate of F1 generation (Cao et al., 2019). In addition, CyB exposure also caused tissue damage of zebrafish gonad, characterized by separation of female gonad follicle wall from yolk or shedding of outer membrane, widening of male gonadal stroma and decrease of sperm number.
In this study, E2 content in F0 zebrafish exposed to CyB decreased significantly, while T content increased, which indicated that the steady state of sex steroid hormone was destroyed. In teleost, the content and balance of E2 and T sex steroid hormones are considered to play an important role in sex differentiation and reproduction (Cao et al., 2016b). In addition, VTG is the energy and nutrients needed for the growth and development of newborn fish embryos and young fish (Navas and Segner, 2006). In fish, E2 can induce the production of VTG, and regulate the synthesis of VTG and its gene expression in liver (Chen and Chan, 2016; Flouriot et al., 1996). Therefore, the decrease of VTG content in male and female zebrafish may be induced by the significant decrease of E2 content. The decrease of E2 content in female and male fish may reduce vitellogenesis in ovary (Sundararaj et al., 1982), at the same time, this is consistent with the decrease of the expression of vtg1 and vtg2 in the liver of male and female fish. Therefore, the collective results show that CyB will disturb the hormone balance and affect the reproduction of zebrafish.
HPGL axis regulates the physiological process of fish gametogenesis, and the content of sex hormones is associated with the changes in sex hormone synthesis related genes regulated by HPGL axis (Phumyu et al., 2012; Weltzien et al., 2004). GnRH is a biosynthetic gonadotropin (GnHs) in hypothalamus, which is regulated by HPGL axis (Ji et al., 2013a; Teng et al., 2020). The increased expression of gnrh2, gnrhr2 and gnrhr3 in females and the up-regulation of gnrhr3 and gnrhr2 in males are consistent with the decrease of E2 production, which indicates that CyB can directly regulate the content of GnRH, thus affecting the secretion of GnHs. In the process of regulation, pituitary gland synthesizes and secretes key hormones on HPGL axis, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which promote ovarian development and differentiation, regulate gamete formation and steroid hormone synthesis (Hauser, 2014; Schulz et al., 2001). FSH is a glycoprotein that can promote E2 synthesis, gonadal hormone secretion and puberty spermatogenesis (Kwok et al., 2005), LH stimulates the synthesis of androgens and progesterone secretion (Anway, 2010; Qian et al., 2020; Schulz et al., 2010). Therefore, the decrease of fsh in zebrafish brain may inhibit the synthesis of E2 in female fish, resulting in the change of LV in ovary and the subsequent decrease of fecundity. The increase of fshb and lhb expression in male zebrafish may affect gonad development and change the percentage of St and Sg. In addition, the biosynthesis process of steroid hormones is directly related to steroid synthase. Cholesterol is converted into testosterone by a series of enzymes (cyp11a, hsd3b, cyp17 and hsd17b encode steroid synthase), and finally into estradiol by aromatase (encoded by cyp19a). Therefore, the expression changes of genes related to steroid-producing enzymes may interfere with the balance of sex hormones (Eidem et al., 2006; Trant et al., 2001). In addition, hsd17b catalyzes the conversion of androstenedione to T, which then converts to 11-KT (Mindnich et al., 2005). The up-regulation of hsd17b in female ovary and the up-regulation and down-regulation of hsd17b in male testis showed that CyB interfered the steroid pathway and damaged the biosynthesis of sex hormones, thus increasing the level of T and decreasing the level of 11-KT, and destroying the reproductive system of male zebrafish. Aromatase (CYP19) is a ccrucial enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of androgen to estrogen in fish. It regulates sex differentiation and reproductive behavior of most teleost fish by influencing E2 synthesis. cyp19a is mainly expressed in gonad, and cyp19b is mainly expressed in brain (Cheshenko et al., 2007; Cheshenko et al., 2008). In this study, cyp19b was expressed more in male brain, indicating that the transformation from E2 to T was increased, resulting in the significant decrease of E2 and the significant increase of T in plasma. Therefore, we speculate that the decrease of cyp19a expression in gonad of male fish prevents testosterone from being converted into estradiol, which leads to the decrease of E2 synthesis in plasma and the increase of testosterone content. Previous studies have shown similar results, the exposure of azoxystrobin leads to the decrease of cyp19a expression in female zebrafish ovaries and the decrease of estradiol content in female zebrafish (Cao et al., 2016b). Tebuconazole suppressed the expression of cyp19a in HPGL axis of zebrafis, and decreased the content of estradiol in female fish (Li et al., 2019).
In addition, the harmful effects of the parent zebrafish can be transferred to the offspring, resulting in a decrease in the survival rate, heart rate and body length of F1 zebrafish embryos, even though F1 embryos have been relieved in clean water. Since fish offspring and their parents may continue to live in the same water environment in nature (Dong et al., 2018), when parents are exposed to pollutants, the offspring may be affected not only by direct exposure, but also by parental exposure (Aluru et al., 2010; Chen et al., 2017; Galus et al., 2014; Hurem et al., 2017; Liu et al., 2014).