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Morphological development of the gonads in zebrafish

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Gonadogenesis of zebrafish Danio rerio was investigated by means of light microscopy to test the suitability of gonad histology as an endpoint in hazard assessment of endocrine-active compounds. At age 2 weeks post-fertilization (pf), primordial germ cells were found in a dorsocaudal position in the body cavity. At 4 weeks pf, the majority of the fish (86%) possessed paired gonads with meiotic germ cells; these gonads represented presumptive ovaries. At week 5 pf, 87% of the fish examined had ovaries with perinucleolar oocytes. Further development of the gonads in female zebrafish up to week 11 pf was characterized by an increase in gonad size as well as in the number and size of perinucleolar oocytes. Starting with week 5, some fish showed alterations of gonad morphology, including a decrease in the number and size of the oocytes, an enhanced basophilia and irregular shape of the oocytes, and finally their degeneration into residual bodies. With the decline in oocyte number, stromal cells became more numerous and they infiltrated the gonadal matrix. In several 7 week-old zebrafish with altered gonadal morphology, enhanced numbers of gonial cells arranged in cyst-like groups appeared. These gonads were interpreted as presumptive testes. In one fish out of 32 individuals examined, spermatocytes were detected, in addition to the gonial cells. During the subsequent weeks, the percentage of fish showing early testes with spermatogonia, spermatocytes and spermatids increased and reached 40% at 11 weeks pf. The sequence of gonadal alterations taking place in some of the individuals from week 5 pf onwards was interpreted to reflect the transition of protogynic ovaries into testes. The developmental pattern described identifies zebrafish to be a juvenile hermaphrodite. The results of this study are of relevance for the use of gonadal histopathology as endpoint in endocrine disruption testing, particularly in order to avoid false diagnoses of ‘intersex gonads’ in zebrafish.
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Keywords: gonad morphological development; juvenile hermaphroditism; zebrafish

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: UFZ Centre for Environmental Research, Department of Chemical Ecotoxicology, Permoserstr. 15, D-04318 Leipzig, Germany

Publication date: 2003-04-01

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