Effects of metformin on wild fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) using in-lake mesocosms in a boreal lake ecosystem Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Due to its widespread use for the treatment of Type-2 diabetes, metformin is routinely detected in surface waters globally. Laboratory studies have shown that environmentally relevant concentrations of metformin can adversely affect the health of adult fish, with effects observed more frequently in males. However, the potential risk to wild fish populations has yet to be fully elucidated and remains a topic of debate. To explore whether environmentally relevant metformin exposure poses a risk to wild fish populations, the present study exposed wild fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) to 5 or 50 μg/L metformin via 2 m diameter in-lake mesocosms deployed in a natural boreal lake in Northern Ontario at the International Institute for Sustainable Development - Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA). Environmental monitoring was performed at regular intervals for 8-weeks, with fish length, weight (body, liver and gonad), condition factor, gonadosomatic index, liver-somatic index, body composition (water and biomolecules) and hematocrit levels evaluated at test termination. Metabolic endpoints were also evaluated using liver, brain and muscle tissue, and gonads were evaluated histologically. Results indicate that current environmental exposure scenarios may be sufficient to adversely impact the health of wild fish populations. Adult male fish exposed to metformin had significantly reduced whole body weight and condition factor and several male fish from the high-dose metformin had oocytes in their testes. Metformin-exposed fish had altered moisture and lipid (decrease) content in their tissues. Further, brain (increase) and liver (decrease) glycogen were altered in fish exposed to high-dose metformin. To our knowledge, this study constitutes the first effort to understand metformin's effects on a wild small-bodied fish population under environmentally relevant field exposure conditions.


  • Ussery, Erin
  • McMaster, Mark
  • Palace, Vince
  • Parrott, Joanne
  • Blandford, Nicholas C
  • Frank, Richard
  • Kidd, Karen
  • Birceanu, Oana
  • Wilson, Joanna
  • Alaee, Mehran
  • Cunningham, Jessie
  • Wynia, Abby
  • Clark, Thomas
  • Campbell, Sheena
  • Timlick, Lauren
  • Michaleski, Sonya
  • Marshall, Stephanie
  • Nielsen, Kristin

publication date

  • June 2024