Aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) is a widespread contaminant of grains and other agricultural crops and is globally associated with both acute toxicity and carcinogenicity. In the present study, we utilized nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and specifically high-resolution magic angle spin (HRMAS) NMR, coupled to the zebrafish (Danio rerio
) embryo toxicological model, to characterize metabolic profiles associated with exposure to AFB1. Exposure to AFB1 was associated with dose-dependent acute toxicity (i.e., lethality) and developmental deformities at micromolar (≤ 2 µM) concentrations. Toxicity of AFB1 was stage-dependent and specifically consistent, in this regard, with a role of the liver and phase I enzyme (i.e., cytochrome P450) bioactivation. Metabolic profiles of intact zebrafish embryos exposed to AFB1 were, furthermore, largely consistent with hepatotoxicity previously reported in mammalian systems including metabolites associated with cytotoxicity (i.e., loss of cellular membrane integrity), glutathione-based detoxification, and multiple pathways associated with the liver including amino acid, lipid, and carbohydrate (i.e., energy) metabolism. Taken together, these metabolic alterations enabled the proposal of an integrated model of the hepatotoxicity of AFB1 in the zebrafish embryo system. Interestingly, changes in amino acid neurotransmitters (i.e., Gly, Glu, and GABA), as a key modulator of neural development, supports a role in recently-reported neurobehavioral and neurodevelopmental effects of AFB1 in the zebrafish embryo model. The present study reinforces not only toxicological pathways of AFB1 (i.e., hepatotoxicity, neurotoxicity), but also multiple metabolites as potential biomarkers of exposure and toxicity. More generally, this underscores the capacity of NMR-based approaches, when coupled to animal models, as a powerful toxicometabolomics tool.
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