Investigation of NH3 as a selective thyroid hormone receptor modulator in larval zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Kyla M. Walter, Latika Singh, Vikrant Singh, Pamela J. Lein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Thyroid hormones (THs) are essential for normal vertebrate development and diverse environmental chemicals are hypothesized to cause developmental toxicity by disrupting TH-mediated signaling. The larval zebrafish (Danio rerio) is an emerging in vivo model of developmental TH disruption; however, the effects of TR antagonism have not yet been studied in zebrafish. NH3, generally considered a potent and specific thyroid hormone receptor (TR) antagonist, has been used in rodents and Xenopus laevis to characterize phenotypes of TR antagonism. The objective of this study is to determine the effects of NH3 on endpoints previously determined to be TH-sensitive in larval zebrafish, specifically teratology and mortality, photomotor behavior, and mRNA expression of TH signaling genes. Zebrafish embryos were exposed to NH3 via static waterborne exposure at concentrations ranging from 0.001 to 10 μM beginning at 6 h post-fertilization (hpf) through 5 days post fertilization (dpf). Significant mortality and teratogenesis was observed at 3, 4, and 5 dpf in zebrafish exposed to NH3 at 10 μM. At concentrations that did not cause significant mortality, NH3 did not exert a consistent antagonistic effect on photomotor behavior assays or mRNA expression when administered alone or in the presence of exogenous T4. Rather, depending on the NH3 concentration and larval age NH3 decreased or increased swimming triggered by transition from light to dark. Similarly, inconsistent antagonistic and agonistic effects on mRNA expression of TH signaling genes were noted following treatment with NH3 alone. NH3 did inhibit T4 (30 nM)-induced gene expression; however, this was only consistently observed at a concentration of NH3 (10 μM) that also caused significant mortality. Collectively, these results suggest that NH3 does not act solely as a TR antagonist in larval zebrafish, but instead exhibits complex modulatory effects on TR activity. These data support the hypothesis that NH3 is a selective thyroid hormone receptor modulator. Further studies of NH3 interactions with the zebrafish thyroid hormone receptor are required to characterize the activity of NH3 in target tissues of the larval zebrafish at the molecular level, highlighting the importance of characterizing NH3 effects in specific models of TH-disruption to better interpret its actions in mechanistic screens of environmental chemicals for TH action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-104
Number of pages9
StatePublished - May 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Antagonist
  • Gene expression
  • Photomotor behavior
  • Thyroid hormone
  • Zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Toxicology


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