FIGCS: An in vitro model to replace ecotoxicity testing of fish to pharmaceuticals

Registration of all human and veterinary drugs require establishment of safety to the environment, which includes toxicity testing to fish normally with lethality as end-point. Using existing OECD guidelines, a minimum of 42 fish are typically used in a single acute toxicity test and where safety to the environment cannot be established, the test is either repeated on additional species or followed by chronic studies, which again often include lethality as end-point. We have established a Fish In vitro Gill Cell System (FIGCS), which allows cells to be exposed to chemicals in test water, thus, maintaining a realistic exposure scenario. FIGCS has been demonstrated to accurately predict toxicity of metals in test water, by measurements of molecular and physiological end-points relevant to known modes of toxicity. In the proposed project we will extend the scope of this system to an important group of environment contaminants, namely pharmaceuticals.

Schnell S et al. (2016). Procedures for the reconstruction, primary culture and experimental use of rainbow trout gill epithelia. Nature Protocols 11(3):490–498. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2016.029 

Stott LC et al. (2015). A primary fish gill cell culture model to assess pharmaceutical uptake and efflux: evidence for passive and facilitated transport. Aquat Toxicol. 159:127–137. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2014.12.007 

Schnell S et al. (2015). Environmental monitoring of urban streams using a primary fish gill cell culture system (FIGCS). Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 120:279-85. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2015.06.012

Bury NR, Schnell S, Hogstrand C (2014). Gill cell culture systems as models for aquatic environmental monitoring. J Exp Biol. 217(Pt 5): 639-50. doi: 10.1242/jeb.095430

Carvalho RN et al. (2014). Mixtures of chemical pollutants at European legislation safety concentrations: how safe are they? Toxicol Sci. 141(1):218-33. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfu118

Minghetti M et al. (2014). A primary FIsh Gill Cell System (FIGCS) for environmental monitoring of river waters. Aquat Toxicol. 154:184-92. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2014.05.019

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Project grant



Principal investigator

Professor Christer Hogstrand


King's College London


Dr Nic Bury
Dr Peter Kille

Grant reference number


Award date

Feb 2011 - Apr 2014

Grant amount