Zinc (Zn) is an essential metal present in numerous enzymes throughout the body, playing a vital role in animal and human health. However, the increasing use of zinc oxide nanomaterials (ZnONPs) in a diverse range of products has raised concerns regarding their potential impacts on health and the environment. Despite these concerns, the toxicity of ZnONP exposure on animal health remain poorly understood. To help address this knowledge gap, we have developed a highly sensitive oxidative stress (OS) biosensor zebrafish capable of detecting cell/tissue-specific OS responses to low doses of various oxidative stressors, including Zn, in a live fish embryo. Using live-imaging analysis with this biosensor zebrafish embryo, we discovered that the olfactory sensory neurons in the brain are especially sensitive to ZnOP exposure. Furthermore, through studies monitoring neutrophil migration and neuronal activation in the embryonic brain and via behaviour analysis, we have found that sub-lethal doses of ZnONPs (ranging from 0.033 to 1 mg/L nominal concentrations), which had no visible effect on embryo growth or morphology, cause significant localised inflammation, disrupting the neurophysiology of olfactory brain tissues and ultimately impaired olfaction-mediated behaviour. Collectively, these findings establish a potent and important effect mechanism for ZnONP toxicity, indicating the olfactory sensory system as the primary target for ZnONPs as an environmental toxicant in aquatic environments. Our result also highlights that even low doses of ZnONPs can have detrimental effects on the olfactory sensory system, surpassing previous expectations. The importance of olfaction in environment sensing, sex behaviours and overall fitness across species raises concerns about the potential impact of ZnONPs on olfaction-mediated brain function and behaviour in animals and humans. Our study emphasises the need for greater consideration of the potential risks associated with these nanomaterials.



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Environment International





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School of Health Professions