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Environ Health Perspect. 1998 Apr;106 Suppl 2:593-611.

Invertebrates in testing of environmental chemicals: are they alternatives?

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  • 1Unité d'Ecotoxicologie Aquatique, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Rennes, France.


An enlarged interpretation of alternatives in toxicology testing includes the replacement of one animal species with another, preferably a nonmammalian species. This paper reviews the potential of invertebrates in testing environmental chemicals and provides evidence of their usefulness in alternative testing methodologies. The first part of this review addresses the use of invertebrates in laboratory toxicology testing. Problems in extrapolating results obtained in invertebrates to those obtained from vertebrates are noted, suggesting that invertebrates can essentially be used in addition to rather than as replacements for vertebrates in laboratory toxicity tests. However, evaluation of the ecologic impact of environmental chemicals must include defining end points that may frequently differ from those classically used in biomedical research. In this context, alternative approaches using invertebrates may be more pertinent. The second part of the review therefore focuses on the use of invertebrates in situ to assess the environmental impact of pollutants. Advantages of invertebrates in ecotoxicologic investigation are presented for their usefulness for seeking mechanistic links between effects occurring at the individual level and consequences for higher levels of biologic organization (e.g., population and community). In the end, it is considered that replacement of vertebrates by invertebrates in ecotoxicity testing is likely to become a reality when basic knowledge of metabolic, physiologic, and developmental patterns in the latter will be sufficient to assess the effect of a given chemical through end points that could be different between invertebrates and vertebrates.

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