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Metformin chlorination byproducts in drinking water exhibit marked toxicities of a potential health concern

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Metformin (MET), a worldwide used drug for type 2 diabetes, has been found with the largest amount by weight among all drugs in aquatic environment, including the drinking water systems where this emerging micropollutant is inevitably transformed during chlorination process. Whether MET chlorination byproducts Y (C4H6ClN5) and C (C4H6ClN3) exist in drinking water remains unknown. Although MET has health-promoting properties, whether or how its chlorination byproducts affect health is still uncharacterized. Here we reveal that MET and byproduct C are present in worldwide drinking water with the highest doses detected for MET and C as 1203.5 ng/L and 9.7 ng/L respectively. Under simulated chlorination conditions, we also demonstrate that both byproducts can be increasingly produced with increment of MET concentration, suggesting a hidden threat on the safety and sustainability of global water supply. Through systematic evaluations, we demonstrate that MET chlorination byproducts Y and C exhibit toxicities instead of genotoxicity to live worms and human HepG2 cells at millimolar doses. Moreover, both byproducts are harmful to mice and particularly Y at 250 ng/L destroys the mouse small intestine integrity. Unprecedentedly, we unveil boiling and activated carbon adsorption as effective alternative solutions that may be in urgent demand globally for removing these byproducts from drinking water.
Both MET byproducts Y and C are harmful to mice, and the byproduct Y destroys the mouse small intestine integrity. (a) Seven-day survival rate of mice after single dose intraperitoneal injection (I.P.) of MET, Y and C at varied doses labeled next to the compound names. For instance, MET150 means the injected dose of MET at 150 mg/kg body weight of the treated mouse. Phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) served as the vehicle for the injected compounds and the injection control. The number of mice (n) injected in each group is provided in parentheses. Detailed observations of the mice after injection and more acute toxicity groups are attached in Fig. S4 and Table S4. (b) Single-dose injection of Y at doses of 1.25 mg/kg and higher led to severe mouse small intestine abnormalities. Surviving mice were examined for tissue or organ alterations by different doses of Y on day 7 after injection. Small intestines of representative treated groups were isolated to show the abnormalities. In the chronic response test for (c) and (d), all mice that survived from drinking water with byproduct Y (0.25, 2.5, and 25 μg/L) or without for one month were dissected for evaluation by hematoxylin-eosin (H&E) staining and Ki67 immunohistochemistry (IHC) staining at the end of exposure. Images are representative of 8 animals for each group. (c) A month of exposure to Y at 2.5 μg/L and 25 μg/L caused marked morphological changes in the small intestine crypts, circled in white dashed lines. (d) Byproduct Y inhibits the proliferation of crypt cells in the jejunum in a dose-dependent manner. Quantification of the Ki67-positive cells in each crypt was conducted and is shown next to the IHC images. Bars represent the SEM (n = 100-150 crypts from 8 mice). **** P < 0.0001 by one-way ANOVA followed by Dunnett's multiple comparisons post hoc test.
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Environment International 146 (2021) 106244
Available online 3 November 2020
0160-4120/© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
Metformin chlorination byproducts in drinking water exhibit marked
toxicities of a potential health concern
Runshuai Zhang
a
,
b
,
c
,
1
, Yuanzhen He
d
,
e
,
f
,
1
, Luxia Yao
a
,
b
,
c
,
1
, Jie Chen
a
,
b
,
c
, Shihao Zhu
a
,
b
,
c
,
Xinxin Rao
g
, Peiyuan Tang
g
, Jia You
a
,
b
,
c
, Guoqiang Hua
g
, Lu Zhang
d
,
e
,
f
, Feng Ju
d
,
e
,
f
,
*
,
Lianfeng Wu
a
,
b
,
c
,
*
a
Key Laboratory of Growth Regulation and Translational Research of Zhejiang Province, School of Life Sciences, Westlake University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
b
Westlake Laboratory of Life Sciences and Biomedicine, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
c
Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Westlake Institute for Advanced Study, 18 Shilongshan Road, Hangzhou 310024, Zhejiang Province, China
d
School of Engineering, Westlake University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
e
Institute of Advanced Technology, Westlake Institute for Advanced Study, 18 Shilongshan Road, Hangzhou 310024, Zhejiang Province, China
f
Key Laboratory of Coastal Environment and Resources of Zhejiang Province, School of Engineering, Westlake University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
g
Institute of Radiation Medicine and Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center, Shanghai Medical School, Fudan University, Shanghai 200032, China
ARTICLE INFO
Handling Editor: Dr. Frederic Coulon
Keywords:
Metformin
Metformin chlorination byproduct
Drinking water
Toxicity
Public health
ABSTRACT
Metformin (MET), a worldwide used drug for type 2 diabetes, has been found with the largest amount by weight
among all drugs in aquatic environment, including the drinking water systems where this emerging micro-
pollutant is inevitably transformed during chlorination process. Whether MET chlorination byproducts Y
(C
4
H
6
ClN
5
) and C (C
4
H
6
ClN
3
) exist in drinking water remains unknown. Although MET has health-promoting
properties, whether or how its chlorination byproducts affect health is still uncharacterized. Here we reveal
that MET and byproduct C are present in worldwide drinking water with the highest doses detected for MET and
C as 1203.5 ng/L and 9.7 ng/L respectively. Under simulated chlorination conditions, we also demonstrate that
both byproducts can be increasingly produced with increment of MET concentration, suggesting a hidden threat
on the safety and sustainability of global water supply. Through systematic evaluations, we demonstrate that
MET chlorination byproducts Y and C exhibit toxicities instead of genotoxicity to live worms and human HepG2
cells at millimolar doses. Moreover, both byproducts are harmful to mice and particularly Y at 250 ng/L destroys
the mouse small intestine integrity. Unprecedentedly, we unveil boiling and activated carbon adsorption as
effective alternative solutions that may be in urgent demand globally for removing these byproducts from
drinking water.
1. Introduction
Metformin (MET), as the rst-line therapy for type 2 diabetes (T2D),
is one of the most prescribed medications in the world. It is anticipated
to be consumed in a much greater amount, due to the rapid global in-
crease in T2D prevalence and the additionally discovered benets of
MET for cancer prevention (Knowler et al., 2002), womens infertility
treatment ([2]) and lifespan extension (Soukas et al., 2019; Wu et al.,
2016). Typically, MET is prescribed with a starting dosage of 500 mg,
twice a day for weeks, then increased up to a total of 2,550 mg per day
dependent on the tolerance of patients. A latest survey reported that
MET was ranked as the 4th most prescribed drug in 2020 and its pre-
scribing rate increased by 44.2% from 54.5 million in 2006 to 78.6
million in 2017 in the U.S. (ClinCalc). Meanwhile, China consumes
approximately 786 metric tons of MET annually in recent years (Yan
et al., 2019). It is noted that MET is not metabolized by human and gets
almost 100% excreted unmodied (Rena et al., 2017), resulting in
increasing concerns on the potential ecotoxicology of MET and its
* Corresponding authors at: Key Laboratory of Coastal Environment and Resources of Zhejiang Province, School of Engineering, Westlake University, Hangzhou,
Zhejiang, China (F. Ju). Key Laboratory of Growth Regulation and Translational Research of Zhejiang Province, School of Life Sciences, Westlake University,
Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China (L. Wu).
E-mail addresses: jufeng@westlake.edu.cn (F. Ju), wulianfeng@westlake.edu.cn (L. Wu).
1
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Environment International
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/envint
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2020.106244
Received 19 September 2020; Received in revised form 23 October 2020; Accepted 23 October 2020
Environment International 146 (2021) 106244
2
byproducts after release into the aquatic systems (Caldwell et al., 2019;
Lena Stütz, 2019). Recently, MET present in surface water has been
found to be problematic to wild shes, causing more aggressive behavior
(MacLaren et al., 2018). In fact, MET has been widely found with the
largest amounts among all drugs in waterways and considered as an
emerging pollutant (Ussery et al., 2019). Although MET could be
removed at efciencies ranging from 84% 99% in wastewater treat-
ment plants (Ju et al., 2019), it is still widely detected in surface water
and drinking water worldwide (Caldwell et al., 2019; Scheurer et al.,
2012), necessitating the study of the potential impacts of MET and its
derivatives on the safety and sustainability of drinking water supply and
human health.
At the beginning of our previous MET study in 2012 (Wu et al.,
2016), we incidentally observed an instant reaction of MET with hy-
pochlorite regularly used for Caenorhabditis elegans synchronization in
the worm eld (Fig. S1). However, the reaction and its yielded two
chlorination byproducts of MET: Y (yellow, C
4
H
6
ClN
5
, 159.58 g/mol)
and C (colorless, C
4
H
6
ClN
3
, 131.56 g/mol) were brought to light by the
elegant work of Armbruster D et al in 2015 (Armbruster et al., 2015).
Chlorine is commonly used for both regional and household drinking
water disinfection worldwide owing to its ease of application, low cost,
and high efciency in protecting water from live germ contamination
(Lantagne and Clasen, 2012). We argue that if MET, continuously
released and potentially accumulated in surface water (Blair et al., 2013;
Elliott et al., 2018), is inevitably transformed into chlorination
byproducts of any potential toxicity during chlorination process, it will
likely bring a widespread health threat to all consumers of the water
containing such byproducts. MET is thus far the safest drug for diabetes
treatment, although it rarely causes toxicity or lactic acidosis when
overdose in humans (Florez, 2017). In a recent study, a crude fraction of
MET byproducts was found with genotoxicity in bacterial Salmonella
typhimurium (Lena Stütz, 2019). However, whether or how much the
pure MET chlorination byproducts Y and C may induce genotoxicity to
animals and affect health of animals remains completely unknown.
Theoretically, these byproducts are increasingly generated and released
into the household taps with more MET present in water sources, but
how much they are present in drinking water has not been monitored
and paid enough attention yet.
In the current study, we rstly puried the MET chlorination
byproducts Y (90.8% of purity) and C (99.5% of purity), traced their
present concentrations in drinking water globally and systematically
evaluated toxicities of these puried compounds in animal models and
human cells. We examined water samples from household taps of mul-
tiple countries and found widespread presences of MET and its chlori-
nation byproduct C in both tap water and drinking water sources.
Strikingly, we noticed that neither of MET byproducts induces geno-
toxicity to nematode worms, but both are markedly toxic to worms and
cultured human cells. Moreover, both byproducts are harmful to mice,
and the byproduct Y at potentially achievable doses in tap water
remarkably destroys the integrity of the mouse intestinal epithelium in a
mechanistic manner likely through the inhibition of intestinal epithe-
lium self-renewal. Continuous disruption of such integrity is known as
basis for numerous gut diseases (Mittal and Coopersmith, 2014) and will
induce serious and irreversible effects on health if not stopped.
Together, we demonstrate the MET chlorination byproducts as a hidden
and serious threat to global health and wellbeing. Fortunately, our
exploration on solutions for removing these hazards from drinking water
demonstrates boiling and powered activated carbon adsorption as
effective ones, which are alternative mitigation measures urgently
needed for global implementation.
2. Materials and methods
2.1. Synthesis and purication of MET chlorination byproducts Y and C
MET chlorination byproducts were prepared according to a protocol
modied from the previous study by Armbruster D et al (Armbruster
et al., 2015). Briey, a series of steps were carried out including chlo-
rination reaction of MET (Sigma, PHR1084), extraction, rotary evapo-
ration concentration, column chromatography purication and
recrystallization. In terms of the potential heat-labile property of the
byproduct Y, low-temperature recrystallization (4 in the dark) was
additionally applied to get the compounds Y and C of maximal purity,
followed by separation of the solidliquid phase and further removal of
water through freeze-drying (-60 C, 12 h). The purities of synthesized
byproducts Y (bright orange powder) and C (colorless powder) were
determined by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), as 90.8% and 99.5%
respectively. The synthesized Y and C were then used as standards for
mass spectrometry analysis of their concentrations in global surface
water and drinking water samples, and for the treatment of nematode
worms, cultured cells, and mice. Consistent with the previous observa-
tion that Y is partly converted to C during preparation (Armbruster et al.,
2015), a certain amount of C signal (4.5%) was detected in the purity
analysis of Y, which is also reected in the same results of mass spec-
trometer analysis (Fig. S2) and explains why the purity of Y is lower
(90.8% vs. 99.5%).
2.2. Water sample collection
The tap water sample or its sources from various lakes or rivers were
collected from different cities of China, the U.S., Japan, Korea, and
Philippines from June to September in 2019. All water samples were
collected freshly and refrigerated at 20 for later transportation and
storage (14 days as the maximal period from collection to analysis).
Under such transportation and storage conditions, MET (no changes
observed in untreated wastewater at 20 for 21 days (Yan et al.,
2019) and C are likely to be stable according to their documented
properties (Armbruster et al., 2015), but Y could be decomposed with
the temperature and matrix components within water (Armbruster et al.,
2015). Samples were ltered with 0.22
μ
m mixed cellulose (MCE)
membrane prior to analysis by liquid chromatography-triple quadruple
tandem mass spectrometry (UPLC-MS/MS).
2.3. UPLC-MS/MS trace analysis
UPLC-MS/MS (RxionLC
TM
SCIEX 6500+, QTRAP, SCIEX, U.S.) in the
positive electrospray ionization (ESI+) mode was used to measure the
trace amounts of MET and its byproducts Y and C. MET separation was
achieved on an BEH Amide analytical column (50 mm ×2.1 mm, 1.7
μ
m; Waters, U.S.) using a mixture of 0.1% formic acid aqueous solution
containing 5 mM ammonium acetate (eluent A) and acetonitrile (eluent
B: ACN). Gradient elution was set up as: 0 min (95% ACN); hold: 1 min
(95% ACN); ramp: 4 min (40% ACN); hold: 5 min (40% ACN); ramp: 5.5
min (95% ACN); stop: 7 min (95% ACN). Y and C in the collected
samples were separated by use of a reversed phase column (ZORBAX
Eclipse plus C18, 50 mm ×2.1 mm, 1.8
μ
m; Agilent, U.S.) with a
gradient of 95% eluent A (ultrapure water with 0.1% formic acid), hold
for 1 min, rise to 90% eluent B (Methanol plus 0.1% formic acid) in 2
min, hold for 1 min, rise to 95% eluent A in 0.5 min and hold for 2 min
(total time for 7 min). The UPLC was operated at a ow rate of 0.4 mL/
min, with injection volume of 20
μ
L and column temperature at 40 C.
The optimized mass spectrum conditions were run as follows: source
temperature at 500 C; IonSpray voltage at 2,000 V; curtain gas at 35 psi;
Ion source gas 1 and 2 at 55 psi and 50 psi, respectively. The MET was
quantied based on the external calibration using the MET (Sigma,
PHR1084) as standard and its recovery ranged from 98% to 126% with
quantication based on external calibration and recovery. The limits of
detection and quantication (LOD and LOQ) for MET were 2 ng/L and 5
ng/L, respectively. Our synthesized byproducts Y and C were used as
standards to analyze water samples collected. The recovery of the
byproduct C from the water samples was 86.9% (mean), and its LOD and
LOQ were determined as 0.2 ng/L and 0.5 ng/L, respectively. The
R. Zhang et al.
Environment International 146 (2021) 106244
3
quantication of Y was achieved by multiple reaction monitoring
(MRM) chromatogram of C (132.2 to 71.0; the retention time of C is at
2.47 min) as it was also present at the retention time of Y (2.70 min)
after passing through the ion source (Fig. S2). The signal decomposition
from Y to C appeared to be linearly correlated well. Thus, the LOD and
LOQ of Y were determined as 72.6 ng/L and 90.8 ng/L respectively
(Fig. S2).
2.4. Disinfection assay with water containing MET
To simulate the formation of MET byproducts Y and C during chlo-
rination, NaOCl (Aladdin, Shanghai, China, Cat. S101636) was used to
react with MET in ultrapure water (Milli-Q system) in triplicates. In
brief, 1.5 mL NaOCl solution with 100 mg/L active chlorine was added
into 50 mL glass tube containing 48.5 mL of metformin solution in the
range of 4
μ
g/L (currently reported level in the drinking water source of
this study) to 640
μ
g/L. The chlorine concentration was within the limit
of Standards for Drinking Water Quality in China (GB 57492006,
2006). The reaction was carried out and on stirring plate in dark at low
speed for 30 min to ensure the enough reaction time. At the end of re-
action (2 h), the reaction mixtures were quenched with 1
μ
L, 10 g/L
sodium thiosulfate (Na
2
S
2
O
3
) followed by transferring into 1.5 mL
brown sample vials. Collected samples were stored in the dark at 20
and analyzed within 3 days.
2.5. Cell culture and cell viability test
HepG2 (liver hepatocellular carcinoma) cells were cultured in Dul-
beccos Modied Eagles Medium-High Glucose (DMEM) medium con-
taining L-glutamine (4 mM; Sigma) and 1 mM sodium pyruvate solution
(100 mM; Sigma), 10% fetal bovine serum (FBS) and 1% pen-
icillinstreptomycin. For the cytotoxicity test, the cells were seeded in
24 wells plates at 5 ×10
4
cells per well overnight before drug treatment.
The cell viability was determined by trypan blue staining after the 12-
hour treatment of the tested compounds at indicated dose.
2.6. Worm culture
The wild-type C. elegans strain N2 was maintained at 20 on
nematode growth media (NGM) plates that were seeded with Escherichia
coli (E. coli) OP50 as a food source. Toxicity tests were conducted with L4
larvae in M9 buffer with different concentrations of MET (Sigma,
PHR1084), sodium (meta) arsenite (Sigma, S7400), and the byproduct Y
or C.
2.7. Mice
Female C57BL/6 mice at 810 weeks old were used for acute and
chronic toxicity tests. For the acute toxicity test, the compounds were
diluted in PBS and administered intraperitoneally. Animals were
monitored and recorded on survival and behavior changes for 7 days.
For chronic toxicity test, compounds were delivered through drinking
water for one month. Drinking water containing byproduct Y or C was
prepared freshly every day. Mice were maintained and handled in
accordance with institutional guidelines, and all animal procedures
were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of
Westlake University.
2.8. Genotoxicity test in C. elegans
The strategy for testing genotoxicity of byproducts Y and C (1 mM) is
designed according to the classical protocol for C. elegans mutagenesis
by ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) (Wu et al., 2016). Phenotypes,
including development, abnormality in shape and behavior, and mor-
tality, were analyzed and recorded throughout the whole process.
2.9. Tissue preparation for immunohistochemistry (IHC)
Dissected intestinal tissues were thoroughly rinsed twice before
being xed in 10% neutral-buffered formalin (Leagene, DF0111) for 24
h and embedded in parafn blocks. Parafn sections (5
μ
m) were stained
with hematoxylin/eosin (H&E; Merck, Darmstadt, Germany). For
immunohistochemistry (IHC), sections were boiled in 0.1 M citrate
buffer (PH 6.0) 30 min for antigen retrieval. The boiled sections were
incubated with Ki67 antibody (Abcam, ab16667; dilution 1:500) over-
night at 4 C in a humidied chamber followed by detection employing
UltraSensitiveTM SP (Mouse/Rabbit) IHC Kit (Maxim, KIT-9720) and
DAB kit (Maxim, DAB-1031) according to manufacturers instructions.
All stained sections were scanned using TissueFAXS microscope (Tis-
sueFAX plus; TissueGnostics, Vienna, Austria).
2.10. Boiling test
100 mL Y or C solutions, at a concentration of 2,509.5 ng/L and
790.4 ng/L respectively, in 250 mL beakers were heated by an electric
water heater. Beakers were sealed with foil to minimize evaporation loss
of solutions. The samples were immediately collected into 1.5 mL brown
sample vials after boiling, and frozen for storage at 20 C before
analysis. Triplicated experiments were conducted, and concentrations of
Y and C before and after boiling were determined via UPLC/MS/MS.
2.11. Activated carbon adsorption
Two forms of activated carbon with different particle sizes (200 mesh
and 12 mm; Huanyu Carbon Industry CO., LTD. China) were evaluated
as the potential sorbents of MET chlorination byproducts according to
the manufacturers instructions. Both powdered and granular activated
carbon were dried in oven at 80 C for 5 h to remove water. In each test,
100 mg activated carbon was added to 30 mL Y solutions (2,509.5 ng/L)
or C solutions (790.4 ng/L) for adsorption followed by 24-hour equili-
bration in a constant temperature shaker (25 C). At the end of equili-
bration, activated carbon was removed from Y or C solutions with 0.22
μ
m MCE membrane lters. The concentrations of compound Y or C
remaining in solutions were subsequently determined by UPLC-MS/MS.
All reactions were carried out in brown glass vials.
2.12. Statistical analysis
For cell viability tests, data were obtained from 3 biological repli-
cates. For the Ki67 staining assay, at least 5 images for each condition
were quantied and analyzed. Experimental differences were analyzed
using one-way ANOVA followed by Dunnetts multiple comparisons test
in Prism 7.0 d software. Values represent mean ±standard error of the
mean (SEM). P value 0.05 is considered of signicance.
3. Results
3.1. Current contamination and projected future accumulation of MET
and its chlorination byproducts in the global drinking water
Currently, MET is widely detected in higher concentrations in surface
water (8.434,000 ng/L) worldwide, including many as drinking water
sources (Fig. 1a). To address whether its chlorination byproducts exist in
drinking water, we synthesized the two byproducts Y and C with an
optimized method from the reported synthesis method (Armbruster
et al., 2015), including low-temperature recrystallization and freeze-
drying steps (see methods), and rstly puried them as detection stan-
dards for the following dose assessment. We employed UPLC-MS/MS
and the puried standards to examine water samples from household
taps worldwide, especially where surface water is used for a drinking
water source. Markedly, we found that the current MET concentration
ranges from 5.1 to 1,203.5 ng/L, and byproduct C ranges from 1.3 to 9.7
R. Zhang et al.
Environment International 146 (2021) 106244
4
ng/L in urban drinking water from multiple countries, including China
and the U.S. (Fig. 1b and Table S2). The detection limit of byproduct Y is
relatively high by UPLC-MS/MS (72.6 ng/L) possibly because Y is labile
under the high temperature of the ion source of the mass spectrometer
(Fig. S2) and as reported by others (Armbruster et al., 2015).
Although the current concentrations of Y in tap water samples fall
below the detection limit of the UPLC-MS/MS method established in this
study, possibly due to its detection limit on the UPLC-MS/MS system, C
has been widely detected in tap water from multiple countries and even
found in a lake water from China at a concentration of 3.5 ng/L, sug-
gesting that the MET byproduct C has entered into the water cycling
from household taps to surface water resources (Table S2). Accumu-
lating evidence shows that MET typically exceeds 1
μ
g/L in surface
water worldwide (Fig. 1a) and is particularly high in some surface
waters in the U.S. (Elliott et al., 2018), China (Kong et al., 2015) and
Canada (de Solla et al., 2016) as 34
μ
g/L, 20
μ
g/L and 10
μ
g/L,
respectively. Unfortunately, it is noteworthy that many countries,
including the U.S. and China, take surface water for drinking water
generation without bank ltration or any other underground passage
process, which are thought to be efcient ways to reduce MET from
surface water (Scheurer et al., 2012). To predict the presences of these
chlorination byproducts in tap water with increasing MET levels, we
carried out simulated disinfection experiments and found steady growth
of Y and C with increased addition of MET during chlorination process
(Fig. 1c and Table S3). Thus, theoretically, these byproducts in tap water
are likely to achieve health-threatening doses over time, revealing a
hidden threat on the safety and sustainability of global drinking water
supply.
Fig. 1. Global view of the MET occurrence in surface water and levels of its chlorination byproducts present in drinking water. (a) Concentrations of MET
currently reported in surface water worldwide. The black spots on the map represent the reported sampling sites in the corresponding countries. The reported
concentration and year are provided and labeled with related references in each box, where the three spots are highlighted in orange with the highest concentration
of MET reported in surface water. The superscripts stand for corresponding references listed in Table S1. (b) MET byproduct C is widely detected in household tap
water. The bar graph represents the results of three water samples from the same place of the top three C-rich cities examined. The error bar represents the SEM. (c) A
simulation experiment was carried out to depict the theoretical production of MET chlorination byproducts with a xed concentration of chlorine (0.3%) regularly
used in water treatment and an increasing addition of MET. The byproduct Y is colored in red and C is colored in light blue. Pearson correlation R
2
and correlation P
value (one-tail) are calculated and provided separately. (For interpretation of the references to colour in this gure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of
this article.)
R. Zhang et al.
Environment International 146 (2021) 106244
5
3.2. MET chlorination byproducts are markedly toxic to live animals and
human cells
To conrm whether chlorination has transformed MET into geno-
toxic byproducts, we used the rstly puried Y and C at 1 mM (Y =1.6
×10
5
μ
g/L, C =1.3 ×10
5
μ
g/L), which are twofold higher doses than
that used in the previous study (~ 0.4 mM) (Lena Stütz, 2019), to treat
the parent generation (P0) of nematode worms, but did not nd any
abnormal F1 and F2 progenies among over 15,000 animals per condi-
tion, indicating that these compounds may not be able to induce geno-
toxicities to the animals (Fig. 2a). However, we repeatedly observed
evident general toxicities of Y and C to the worms in the genotoxicity
assay (Fig. 2b) and the conrmed survival assay (Fig. 2c). Strikingly, we
found both byproducts at 1 mM exhibit similar or higher toxicity than
MET does at 100 mM (1.29 ×10
7
μ
g/L) to C. elegans (Fig. 2c), which
indicates that chlorination has turned MET into 100 times more toxic
compounds to live animals C. elegans. Researchers frequently use very
high doses and long periods of treatment of MET to induce the effect of
interest and seldom consider MET as a toxic reagent. For instance, re-
searchers use over 10 mM (1.3 ×10
6
μ
g/L) in cells (Kalender et al.,
2010), 50 mM (6.6 ×10
6
μ
g/L) in C. elegans (Wu et al., 2016; Cabreiro
et al., 2013) or 150 mg/kg injected intraperitoneally in mice (Ludman
and Melemedjian, 2019) generally for 24 or 48 h in cells and days or
weeks in animals (Wu et al., 2016; Kalender et al., 2010; Ludman and
Melemedjian, 2019). To dene the toxicity level of MET chlorination
byproducts, we compared them with arsenic, a well-known poisonous
compound ever being neglected in drinking water and eventually
resulting in the most serious public health issue in human history
(Schmidt et al., 2016). Strikingly, we found that both MET chlorination
byproducts are much more toxic than arsenic when all employed at 2
Fig. 2. MET chlorination byproducts exhibit marked toxicity, instead of genotoxicity, to nematode worms and cultured human HepG2 cells. (a) Workow
for the genotoxicity test of MET chlorination byproducts Y and C in Caenorhabditis elegans. P0 means the parent animals treated by Y or C (1 mM, Y =1.6 ×10
5
μ
g/L,
C =1.3 ×10
5
μ
g/L) for 6 h, while F1 and F2 stand for the rst- and second-generation progenies of treated P0 animals respectively. The evaluations were conducted
daily, and abnormal phenotypes compared to vehicle group (Veh) were only observed around 14 h post Y/C treatment. (b) Development variations were observed in
the P0 generation treated by Y or C, shown in images, and quantied in the bar gure. (c) Survival rate of larvae L4 worms treated with MET byproducts Y or C (1
mM, Y =1.6 ×10
5
μ
g/L, C =1.3 ×10
5
μ
g/L; and 2 mM, Y =3.2 ×10
5
μ
g/L, C =2.6 ×10
5
μ
g/L) and As (1 mM, 1.3 ×10
5
μ
g/L; 2 mM, 2.6 ×10
5
μ
g/L) at 50 or 100
times lower concentrations than MET (100 mM, 1.3 ×10
7
μ
g/L) for 12 h. (d) Treatment of MET byproducts Y and C (0.1 mM, Y =1.6 ×10
4
μ
g/L, C =1.3 ×10
4
μ
g/L;
and 0.2 mM, Y =3.2 ×10
4
μ
g/L, C =2.6 ×10
4
μ
g/L) for 12 h resulted in remarkable deaths of HepG2 cells, which are comparable to the death rates induced by the
same doses of As treatment (0.1 mM, 1.3 ×10
4
μ
g/L;0.2 mM, 2.6 ×10
4
μ
g/L), while MET at 20 mM (2.6 ×10
6
μ
g/L) did not cause signicant cell deaths. It is worth
mentioning that HepG2 cells, displaying many genotypic features and metabolic manners of human liver, are widely considered as one of the best in vitro systems for
predicting human toxicity potential of compounds of interest (OBrien, 2014). The cell viability was determined by trypan blue staining. The results are presented as
the mean SEM of three biological replicates. ** P <0.01, *** P <0.001, **** P <0.0001 from one-way ANOVA analysis followed by Dunnetts multiple comparisons
test. (For interpretation of the references to colour in this gure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)
R. Zhang et al.
Environment International 146 (2021) 106244
6
mM doses, while the byproduct C is 5 times more toxic than arsenic to
nematode worms (Fig. 2c).
To assess the cytotoxicity of MET chlorination byproducts, we chose
the human hepatoma carcinoma HepG2 cell, which is widely used in
MET studies (Zang et al., 2004) and cytotoxicity tests (Gerets et al.,
2012). In line with the worm results, we found that MET at 20 mM (2.6
×10
6
μ
g/L) reduced the viability of HepG2 cells slightly, whereas at 0.1
mM (Y =1.6 ×10
4
μ
g/L, C =1.3 ×10
4
μ
g/L) both Y and C induced
marked cell death and nearly killed all cells at a concentration of 0.2 mM
(Y =3.2 ×10
4
μ
g/L, C =2.6 ×10
4
μ
g/L) as measured by trypan blue
exclusion assay after 12 h of treatment (Fig. 2d). To also have an evident
sense of the toxicity level of these byproducts in human cells, we
compared them with arsenic and found that both MET chlorination
byproducts exert similar or even higher toxicity than arsenic to HepG2
cells at the same doses (Fig. 2d). The 50% lethal concentrations (LC50)
of Y and C were titrated as 116.5
μ
M (1.9 ×10
4
μ
g/L) and 90.9
μ
M (1.2
×10
4
μ
g/L) respectively (Fig. S3), which are consistently found com-
parable to the documented arsenics LC50 at 100
μ
M (2.0 ×10
4
μ
g/L) in
HepG2 cells (Gerets et al., 2012).
3.3. MET chlorination byproducts exhibit deleterious effects to mice and
their small intestine integrity
To evaluate the toxicity of Y and C at the physiological level, we
Fig. 3. Both MET byproducts Y and C are harmful to mice, and the byproduct Y destroys the mouse small intestine integrity. (a) Seven-day survival rate of
mice after single dose intraperitoneal injection (I.P.) of MET, Y and C at varied doses labeled next to the compound names. For instance, MET150 means the injected
dose of MET at 150 mg/kg body weight of the treated mouse. Phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) served as the vehicle for the injected compounds and the injection
control. The number of mice (n) injected in each group is provided in parentheses. Detailed observations of the mice after injection and more acute toxicity groups are
attached in Fig. S4 and Table S4. (b) Single-dose injection of Y at doses of 1.25 mg/kg and higher led to severe mouse small intestine abnormalities. Surviving mice
were examined for tissue or organ alterations by different doses of Y on day 7 after injection. Small intestines of representative treated groups were isolated to show
the abnormalities. In the chronic response test for (c) and (d), all mice that survived from drinking water with byproduct Y (0.25, 2.5, and 25
μ
g/L) or without for one
month were dissected for evaluation by hematoxylin-eosin (H&E) staining and Ki67 immunohistochemistry (IHC) staining at the end of exposure. Images are
representative of 8 animals for each group. (c) A month of exposure to Y at 2.5
μ
g/L and 25
μ
g/L caused marked morphological changes in the small intestine crypts,
circled in white dashed lines. (d) Byproduct Y inhibits the proliferation of crypt cells in the jejunum in a dose-dependent manner. Quantication of the Ki67-positive
cells in each crypt was conducted and is shown next to the IHC images. Bars represent the SEM (n =100150 crypts from 8 mice). **** P <0.0001 by one-way
ANOVA followed by Dunnetts multiple comparisons post hoc test.
R. Zhang et al.
Environment International 146 (2021) 106244
7
examined the mouse response to these compounds acutely via a single
intraperitoneal injection and chronically through one month of drinking
water. In the acute test, we found that all 8 mice injected with 150 mg/
kg body weight MET, a regular dose used in MET research (Ludman and
Melemedjian, 2019), survived through the 7 day test period and did not
show any obvious abnormalities, while 6 of the 8 mice injected with the
same dose of C trembled the body, secreted white substances immedi-
ately after injection, and died within 2 days (Fig. 3a, S4 and Table S4).
However, all 8 mice survived from the 100 mg/kg test of C. In a dramatic
contrast, injection of Y at 50 mg/kg led to the deaths of all 8 mice within
2 days and 3 out of 8 deaths at 10 mg/kg 7 days postinjection (Fig. 3a
and Table S4), which indicates the more potent toxicity of Y than that of
C in mice. Moreover, we noticed that the intestines of mice were
swollen, dark and bloody after injection with doses higher than 10 mg/
kg Y, and swelling was even observed at the low level of 1.25 mg/kg
(Fig. 3b and S4), suggesting that Y may attack the mouse small intestines
specically and remarkably.
Chronic response tests were performed to determine whether low
doses of Y and C could cause adverse effects in mice through daily
exposure in drinking water for one month. After one month of drinking
the water containing 2.5 mg/L C, the mice did not show any obvious
abnormal behaviors (data not shown) or intestinal morphology changes
as determined by histological staining (Fig. S5a). However, consistent
with the acute test results, we observed that the byproduct Y caused
morphological changes in the crypts at the jejunum of the small intestine
(Fig. 3c), where the majority of nutrients are absorbed (Kiela and
Ghishan, 2016), without affecting the normal growth of tested animals
(Fig. S5b), after one month of treatment in drinking water at a dose of
0.25
μ
g/L. As documented, most cells at the base of small intestine
crypts are stem cells that normally turn over every 3 to 4 days for cell
renewal of the epithelium (Hua et al., 2017; Clevers, 2013). To deter-
mine whether Y induces intestinal epithelial layer changes by affecting
cell proliferation of crypt cells, we conducted an immunostaining assay
against the protein Ki67, a marker of cell proliferation (Scholzen and
Gerdes, 2000). According to Ki67 staining, Y inhibits the proliferation of
cells at the base of the small intestine crypt in a dose-dependent manner
(Fig. 3d), which implicates that Y impedes self-renewal of the intestinal
epithelium by blocking cell proliferation. The continuous disruption of
the intestinal epithelium by the byproduct Y is likely to induce serious or
irreversible threats to health and wellbeing.
3.4. Solutions for removing MET chlorination byproducts from water
Given that the evident toxicities of MET byproducts to nematode
worms and cells are comparable or even higher than arsenic and the
byproduct Y impairs the integrity of the mouse small intestine when
administered in drinking water, we should not experience any epide-
miological disaster like the one caused by arsenic contamination in
drinking water, which has been recognized as a historical mistake by
ignoring arsenic in drinking water quality control (Smith et al., 2002).
The reason why we have not seen the causality of potential health risks
from MET chlorination byproducts in drinking water may be thanks to
our means to use tap water, such as boiling the water before drinking
that is regularly employed in many countries, including China. We found
that boiling makes the byproduct Y completely undetectable and C
slightly reduced from water (Fig. 4) and turns the byproduct Y, even at a
highly lethal dose, into other currently unknown but safe byproduct(s)
to mice (50 mg/kg Y, I.P., Fig. S6). The reduction of harms to mice after
water boiling implies that boiling could be one option to avoid the po-
tential risks from drinking the water containing MET chlorination
byproducts, especially for the harmful Y.
To prevent MET chlorination byproducts in tap water from reaching
the harmful levels, we exploited the possibility that activated carbon
adsorption, which is commonly used in water treatment, might help to
remove these compounds from water. Activated carbon adsorption is a
well-established approach in removing disinfection byproducts
generated in water treatment due to its well-known effectiveness and the
ease of activated carbon regeneration (Chiu et al., 2012; Cuthbertson
et al., 2019). We found that powdered activated carbon adsorbs
byproducts Y and C more effectively than the granular form does
(Fig. 4), the results of which can be leveraged to guide water treatment
routes and develop additional processes for completely removing Y and
C from drinking water.
4. Discussion
MET has been widely recognized as a panacea to promote health,
especially for the growing population of T2D patients, while our ndings
here reveal that hypochlorite transforms this panacea drug into toxic
players (byproducts Y and C) with demonstrated threats to the health of
life over time. Concluding from the historical lessons of arsenic
contamination in drinking water, Smith AH et al. highlighted that
“delaying action in an attempt to be thorough in research and long-term
planning can be a mistake(Smith et al., 2002; Smith et al., 2000). Our
current study necessitates the emergent need to globally pay attention to
the MET byproducts widely present in chlorinated drinking water.
Previous lessons have taught us that drinking water containing 50 µg/L
arsenic would cause 1 in 100 people to die from arsenic-related cancers,
including lung, bladder, and skin cancers (Smith et al., 2000). It is
noteworthy that both MET chlorination byproducts Y and C are highly
nitrogenous substances, which is a typical trait of bladder carcinogens
identied to date (Diana et al., 2019). Whether these previously
neglected MET byproducts are potential bladder carcinogens, or
carcinogen precursors needs to be explored.
To our surprise, MET byproduct Y induced signicant toxicity to
mice in both the acute test and the chronic treatment, especially
attacking the mouse gut. The reason why compound Y targets the gut
remains elusive, but collective evidence has proposed the gut as a major
action site of MET, increasing glucose uptake and lactate production
within the intestine (McCreight et al., 2016). More importantly, MET has
been found to be absorbed mostly in the small intestine and highly
accumulated in the jejunum peaks (Bailey et al., 2008). The difference
between Y and C in the toxic effects may be partly contributed by their
notable differences of structural moiety, as triazole-derivate structure of
Y with an active chlorimine moiety is implicated to induce more toxicity
compared to the chloroorganic nitrile structure of C (Armbruster et al.,
2015). However, whether or how its byproduct C affects the health of
mice and wild animals still needs to be further explored, as it is stable
and has been widely detected in tap and surface water. Future studies
are also encouraged to address the potential limitations of this study: 1)
in order to avoid potential degradations of the MET chlorination
Fig. 4. MET chlorination byproducts can be removed from drinking water
by boiling and activated carbon adsorption. Boiling makes byproduct Y
completely undetectable, while powdered activated carbon (PAC) and granular
activated carbon (GAC), can effectively remove both MET byproducts Y and C
from water. MET byproducts Y and C in water were analyzed by UPLC-MS/MS
prior to and after treatment, including boiling and adsorption through PAC or
GAC. N.D. stands for no detectable signal above signal noise.
R. Zhang et al.
Environment International 146 (2021) 106244
8
byproducts during transportation and storage, future drinking water
samples worldwide should be evaluated timely and locally; 2) what we
have evaluated remain limited in growth inhibition test, not covering
the byproducts effect on reproduction and animals of varied ages or
conditions; 3) we would consider our mouse data as a preliminary
reference for future study to determine whether the chemicals effect on
mouse gut is directly caused by the tested compound or other factors
associated with the compound exposure; 4) all our mouse experiments
were conducted within limited time periods compared to the year-by-
year exposure to (drinking) the water containing MET, Y, and C; 5)
the joint toxicities of MET, Y and C that might be more toxic than any
single one of them are not evaluated in the current study.
Although the current doses of MET present in drinking water may not
directly cause safety concerns to humans, the potential threats of its
chlorination byproducts cannot be neglected. Because they were found
to be toxic to live animals C. elegans and mice at doses generally safe for
MET administration, and have been traced in household tap water
consumed daily by billions of people globally, including young and sick
people. In the current study, we demonstrated that boiling and activated
carbon adsorption are feasible solutions to reduce the MET chlorinated
byproducts from water, which can be used timely to stop the growing
health threats to humans and wildlife from daily exposure of these
byproducts. Strategies to remove MET from the environment were
intensively explored (Scheurer et al., 2012; Poursat et al., 2019; Ju et al.,
2019), but very few effective ones have been suggested, including bank
ltration or underground passage (Scheurer et al., 2012) and biodeg-
radation by certain species of bacteria (Ju et al., 2019). Alternatively,
additional, better drug options to replace MET or reduce MET con-
sumption are also in emerging demand and important for the sustain-
ability of global drinking water supply.
Declaration of Competing Interest
The authors declare that they have no known competing nancial
interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to inuence
the work reported in this paper.
Acknowledgments
We thank Jinheng Pan, Shan Feng, Nanjia Zhou, Hang Shi and
Xiaohuo Shi for the facility support and discussions. We are grateful to
all people volunteered for assistance on water sampling. We thank
Alexander A. Soukas, Dangsheng Li, Ling Li, Yigong Shi, Tian Xu, and Li
Deng for critical discussions.
Funding Sources
This work was supported by institutional funds from the Westlake
University / Westlake Institute for Advanced Study (L.W. and F.J.), by
the Young Scientists Fund of the National Natural Science Foundation of
China, grant number 51908467 (F.J.), by the National Natural Science
Foundation of China, grant number 31670858 (H.G.).
Author Contributions
R. Z., Y. H., L. Y., F. J. and L. W. designed the experiments. R. Z., L. Y.,
J. C., S. Z., X. R., P. T. and Y. J. performed the cell and mouse experi-
ments. Y. H. and L. Z. synthesized the compounds and performed water
sample analysis. J. Y. and G. H. mentored the mouse experiments and
analyzed the results. R. Z., Y. H., L. Y., F. J. and L. W. wrote the
manuscript. F. J. and L.W. supervised the project.
Appendix A. Supplementary data
Supplementary data to this article can be found online at https://doi.
org/10.1016/j.envint.2020.106244.
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... Unfortunately, no study has yet clearly and comprehensively assessed the production of these byproducts. Concerningly, we recently provided the first evidence for the presence of this chloroorganic nitrile byproduct C in drinking water (Zhang et al., 2021). However, it remains unclear whether such chlorination DBPs are as ubiquitous as their parent compound metformin, and/or whether they should be treated as emerging contaminants in natural environments and urban water systems. ...
... Stütz et al. (2019) reported that C and Y exhibited cytotoxicity and genotoxicity, respectively, on Salmonella typhimurium TA1535/pSK1002. We recently discovered that both byproducts showed markedly lethal toxicity to live worms (Y = 160 mg/L, C = 130 mg/L) and human cells (lethal concentration of 50%, Y = 190 mg/L, C = 120 mg/L), and that intake of Y through acute intraperitoneal injection (>1.25 mg/kg) or one-month regular water consumption (0.25 μg/L) caused severe damage to the small intestine integrity of mice (Zhang et al., 2021). Remarkably, there are currently no reports on the toxicity or potential risk of both byproducts on aquatic species (e.g., algae or fish). ...
... The metformin DBPs were prepared following previously described methods (Armbruster et al., 2015;Zhang et al., 2021); details are given in Text S1 and Figs. S1 and S2. ...
Article
The widely used antidiabetic drug metformin has become an emerging contaminant of water systems. In a prior study, we demonstrated the marked mammalian toxicity of the disinfection-derived byproducts (DBPs) Y (yellow, C4H6ClN5) and C (colorless, C4H6ClN3), and here assess the distribution, formation, and ecotoxicity of these in Chinese urban water systems. A national tap water assessment showed that metformin and C concentrations were higher in large, dense urban areas and surface water sources than in sparsely populated areas and groundwater sources. Water types' analysis clearly showed that C derived from chlorination of metformin-contaminated water (up to 4308.5 ng/L) circulated from domestic water (0.7–9.7 ng/L) via sewage (2.3 ng/L in effluent) to surface water (0.6–3.5 ng/L). Simulated disinfection and aqueous stability results systematically showed rapid formation and 24 h stability of both byproducts, indicating high exposure odds for water users. Both byproducts showed clear but distinct toxic effects on the growth (72 h IC50, 0.6 mg/L for Y and 4.4 mg/L for C) and photosynthesis of the microalgae Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata at milligram levels. Combinedly, our work reveals that metformin byproducts have been disseminated to urban water cycle and contaminated tap water, increasing potential toxic risk for drinking water. Its outcomes provide a preliminary reference for future studies on the environmental fate and ecotoxicological effects of unintended DBPs formed in the chlorination of metformin-contaminated water.
... Additionally, PPCPs introduced into the water supply are subject to HOCl-mediated chlorination and subsequent formation of CBPs. For example, common drugs including metformin, diclofenac, and tamoxifen entering freshwater sources are subject to direct chlorination causing drinking water contamination associated with largely unexplored implications for human health (126)(127)(128)(129). Likewise, chlorination of PPCPs including sunscreen ingredients such as the common UVAsunscreen avobenzone are associated with formation of a dichloro-species, and cosmetics are equally subject to chlorination with unexplored effects on human health (16,(130)(131)(132)(133)(134)(135). ...
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A multitude of extrinsic environmental factors (referred to in their entirety as the ‘skin exposome’) impact structure and function of skin and its corresponding cellular components. The complex (i.e. additive, antagonistic, or synergistic) interactions between multiple extrinsic (exposome) and intrinsic (biological) factors are important determinants of skin health outcomes. Here, we review the role of hypochlorous acid (HOCl) as an emerging component of the skin exposome serving molecular functions as an innate immune factor, environmental toxicant, and topical chemopreventive agent targeting solar UV-induced skin cancer. HOCl [and its corresponding anion (OCl-; hypochlorite)], a weak halogen-based acid and powerful oxidant, serves two seemingly unrelated molecular roles: (i) as an innate immune factor [acting as a myeloperoxidase (MPO)-derived microbicidal factor] and (ii) as a chemical disinfectant used in freshwater processing on a global scale, both in the context of drinking water safety and recreational freshwater use. Physicochemical properties (including redox potential and photon absorptivity) determine chemical reactivity of HOCl towards select biochemical targets [i.e. proteins (e.g. IKK, GRP78, HSA, Keap1/NRF2), lipids, and nucleic acids], essential to its role in innate immunity, antimicrobial disinfection, and therapeutic anti-inflammatory use. Recent studies have explored the interaction between solar UV and HOCl-related environmental co-exposures identifying a heretofore unrecognized photo-chemopreventive activity of topical HOCl and chlorination stress that blocks tumorigenic inflammatory progression in UV-induced high-risk SKH-1 mouse skin, a finding with potential implications for the prevention of human nonmelanoma skin photocarcinogenesis.
... 64,65 However, the treatments cannot remove all API and, sometimes, they could even induce the more toxic byproduct. 66 Advanced treatment techniques such as ozonation and activated carbon filtering could be more effective to remove the trace contaminant but not economically viable if applied in all the drinking water treatment facilities. 64,67 Thus, it is important to identify the water supply intakes with high human health risks before implementing the costly techniques. ...
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Granular activated carbon (GAC) adsorption is well-established for controlling regulated disinfection by-products (DBPs), but its effectiveness for unregulated DBPs and DBP-associated toxicity is unclear. In this study, GAC treatment was evaluated at three full-scale chlorination drinking water treatment plants over different GAC service lives for controlling 61 unregulated DBPs, 9 regulated DBPs, and speciated total organic halogen (total organic chlorine, bromine, and iodine). Plants represented a range of impacts, including algal, agricultural, and industrial wastewater. This study represents the most extensive full-scale study of its kind and seeks to address the question of whether GAC can make drinking water safer from a DBP perspective. Overall, GAC was effective for removing DBP precursors and reducing DBP formation and total organic halogen, even after >22,000 bed volumes of treated water. GAC also effectively removed preformed DBPs at plants using pre-chlorination, including highly toxic iodoacetic acids and haloacetonitriles. However, 7 DBPs (mostly brominated and nitrogenous) increased in formation after GAC treatment. In one plant, an increase in tribromonitromethane had significant impacts on calculated cytotoxicity, which only had 7-17% reduction following GAC. While these DBPs are highly toxic, the total calculated cytotoxicity and genotoxicity for the GAC treated waters for the other two plants was reduced 32-79% (across young-middle-old GAC). Overall, calculated toxicity was reduced post-GAC, with pre-oxidation allowing further reductions.
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Metformin is the most widely prescribed oral hypoglycemic medication for type 2 diabetes worldwide. Metformin also retards aging in model organisms and reduces the incidence of aging-related diseases such as neurodegenerative disease and cancer in humans. In spite of its widespread use, the mechanisms by which metformin exerts favorable effects on aging remain largely unknown. Further, not all individuals prescribed metformin derive the same benefit and some develop side effects. Before metformin finds its way to mainstay therapy for anti-aging, a more granular understanding of the effects of the drug in humans is needed. This review provides an overview of recent findings from metformin studies in aging and longevity and discusses the use of metformin to combat aging and aging-related diseases.
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Metformin is currently thought to be the highest drug by weight released into the aquatic environment, as a direct result of its widespread use in the treatment of a number of human health disorders. The removal of metformin from wastewaters is directly related to the formation of guanylurea (metformin's only known persistent degradation product), which is generally present at higher concentrations in surface waters than the parent compound. With metformin use rising steadily, it is important to characterize the effects of guanylurea on non‐target aquatic organisms. We recently demonstrated the effects of developmental exposure to environmentally relevant concentrations of metformin on the growth of early life stage (ELS) medaka, as well as effects on the body weight of adult male fish following full life‐cycle exposures. Here, we describe similar effects of guanylurea exposure on these endpoints and life stages. Guanylurea led to effects on growth in a 28‐day ELS assessment that were similar to those of metformin; however, these effects occurred at concentrations in the ng/L range, as compared with the µg/L range for metformin. A possible sex‐dependent association with body weight changes was also observed in adults following a 165‐day full life cycle exposure to guanylurea alone, or in a mixture with metformin. To our knowledge, this is the first study to report the toxicity of guanylurea to non‐target aquatic organisms.
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Metformin (MET), CAS 1115-70-4 (Metformin hydrochloride), is an antidiabetic drug with high usage in North America and Europe and has become the subject of regulatory interest. A pharmaceutical industry working group investigated environmental risks of MET. Environmental fate and chronic effects data were collated across the industry for the present risk assessment. Predicted environmental concentrations (PECs) for MET were modeled for the USA and Europe using the PhATE and GREAT-ER models, respectively. PECs were compared with measured environmental concentrations (MECs) for the USA and Europe. A predicted no effect concentration (PNEC) of 1 mg/L for MET was derived by deterministic procedures, applying an assessment factor of 10 to the lowest no observed effect concentration (i.e., 10 mg/L) from multiple chronic studies with algae, daphnids and fish. The PEC/PNEC and MEC/PNEC risk characterization ratios were <1, indicating no significant risk for MET with high Margins of Safety (MOS) of >868. MET is known to degrade during wastewater treatment to guanylurea (GUU, CAS 141-83-3), which we have shown to further degrade. There are no GUU toxicity data in the literature; hence, chronic studies for GUU were conducted to derive a PNEC of 0.16 mg/L. PECs were derived for GUU as for MET, plus MECs were retrieved from the literature. The PEC/PNEC and MEC/PNEC risk characterization ratios for GUU were also <1, with an MOS of >6.5. Based on standard risk assessment procedures for both MET and its transformation product GUU, there is no significant risk to aquatic life.
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Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are implicated as hotspots for the dissemination of antibacterial resistance into the environment. However, the in situ processes governing removal, persistence, and evolution of resistance genes during wastewater treatment remain poorly understood. Here, we used quantitative metagenomic and metatranscriptomic approaches to achieve a broad-spectrum view of the flow and expression of genes related to antibacterial resistance to over 20 classes of antibiotics, 65 biocides, and 22 metals. All compartments of 12 WWTPs share persistent resistance genes with detectable transcriptional activities that were comparatively higher in the secondary effluent, where mobility genes also show higher relative abundance and expression ratios. The richness and abundance of resistance genes vary greatly across metagenomes from different treatment compartments, and their relative and absolute abundances correlate with bacterial community composition and biomass concentration. No strong drivers of resistome composition could be identified among the chemical stressors analyzed, although the sub-inhibitory concentration (hundreds of ng/L) of macrolide antibiotics in wastewater correlates with macrolide and vancomycin resistance genes. Contig-based analysis shows considerable co-localization between resistance and mobility genes and implies a history of substantial horizontal resistance transfer involving human bacterial pathogens. Based on these findings, we propose future inclusion of mobility incidence (M%) and host pathogenicity of antibiotic resistance genes in their quantitative health risk ranking models with an ultimate goal to assess the biological significance of wastewater resistomes with regard to disease control in humans or domestic livestock.