The pancreatic islets, largely comprised of insulin-producing beta cells, play a critical role in endocrine signaling and glucose homeostasis. Because they have low levels of antioxidant defenses and a high perfusion rate, the endocrine islets may be a highly susceptible target tissue of chemical exposures. However, this endpoint, as well as the integrity of the surrounding exocrine pancreas, is often overlooked in studies of developmental toxicology. Disruption of development by toxicants can alter cell fate and migration, resulting in structural alterations that are difficult to detect in mammalian embryo systems, but that are easily observed in the zebrafish embryo model (Danio rerio
). Using endogenously expressed fluorescent protein markers for developing zebrafish beta cells and exocrine pancreas tissue, we documented differences in islet area and incidence rates of islet morphological variants in zebrafish embryos between 48 and 96 h post fertilization (hpf), raised under control conditions commonly used in embryotoxicity assays. We identified critical windows for chemical exposures during which increased incidences of endocrine pancreas abnormalities were observed following exposure to cyclopamine (2–12 hpf), Mono-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (MEHP) (3–48 hpf), and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) (3–48 hpf). Both islet area and length of the exocrine pancreas were sensitive to oxidative stress from exposure to the oxidant tert-butyl hydroperoxide during a highly proliferative critical window (72 hpf). Finally, pancreatic dysmorphogenesis following developmental exposures is discussed with respect to human disease.
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