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Water Res. 2010 Apr;44(8):2409-18. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2010.01.005. Epub 2010 Jan 14.

Contamination with retinoic acid receptor agonists in two rivers in the Kinki region of Japan.

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  • 1Division of Sustainable Energy and Environmental Engineering, Osaka University, 2-1 Yamadaoka, Suita, Osaka 565-0871, Japan.


This study was conducted to investigate the agonistic activity against human retinoic acid receptor (RAR) alpha in the Lake Biwa-Yodo River and the Ina River in the Kinki region of Japan. To accomplish this, a yeast two-hybrid assay was used to elucidate the spatial and temporal variations and potential sources of RARalpha agonist contamination in the river basins. RARalpha agonistic activity was commonly detected in the surface water samples collected along two rivers at different periods, with maximum all-trans retinoic acid (atRA) equivalents of 47.6 ng-atRA/L and 23.5 ng-atRA/L being observed in Lake Biwa-Yodo River and Ina River, respectively. The results indicated that RARalpha agonists are always present and widespread in the rivers. Comparative investigation of RARalpha and estrogen receptor alpha agonistic activities at 20 stations along each river revealed that the spatial variation pattern of RARalpha agonist contamination was entirely different from that of the estrogenic compound contamination. This suggests that the effluent from municipal wastewater treatment plants, a primary source of estrogenic compounds, seemed not to be the cause of RARalpha agonist contamination in the rivers. Fractionation using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) directed by the bioassay found two bioactive fractions from river water samples, suggesting the presence of at least two RARalpha agonists in the rivers. Although a trial conducted to identify RARalpha agonists in the major bioactive fraction was not completed as part of this study, comparison of retention times in HPLC analysis and quantification with liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis revealed that the major causative contaminants responsible for the RARalpha agonistic activity were not RAs (natural RAR ligands) and 4-oxo-RAs, while 4-oxo-RAs were identified as the major RAR agonists in sewage in Beijing, China. These findings suggest that there are unknown RARalpha agonists with high activity in the rivers.

Copyright (c) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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