Vitellogenin concentrations in feral Danish brown trout have decreased: An effect of improved sewage treatment in rural areas?

Jane Ebsen Morthorst*, Karsten Korsholm Mathiesen, Henrik Holbech, Knud Ladegaard Pedersen, Poul Bjerregaard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Feminization of male and juvenile fish because of exposure to estrogens or estrogenic chemicals in effluents from central wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) is a worldwide issue of concern. Intersex and induction of the female yolk protein, vitellogenin, in male and juvenile fish are robust biomarkers for estrogenic exposure, and feminized fish have been observed downstream of WWTP outlets in many countries. Danish central WWTPs reduce effluent estrogenicity effectively by advanced sewage treatment, and feminizations have not been observed downstream of central WWTP outlets. However, between 2000 and 2004, investigations of Danish streams not receiving sewage from central WWTPs revealed a high variation in vitellogenin concentrations of male juvenile brown trout (Salmo trutta); some individuals had high concentrations, probably as a result of estrogenic point sources, and the plasma concentration was >50 ng mL −1 in 79% of the juvenile males. The streams were reinvestigated in 2010 to 2016, and the average male level had decreased to a hitherto unseen baseline level; in 2010 only 0.7% (one individual) of the males had a vitellogenin concentration >50 ng mL −1, which could indicate that the estrogenicity of the streams decreased after 2004. We examined possible estrogenic sources in streams unaffected by central WWTP effluents, and found that the reduced vitellogenin levels are most likely explained by a national effort to improve on-site wastewater treatment in scattered houses not connected to central WWTPs. Environ Toxicol Chem 2018;37:839–845.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)839-845
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Baseline vitellogenin level
  • Biomarkers
  • Biomonitoring
  • Endocrine disruptors
  • Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay
  • Water quality
  • Geography
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical/analysis
  • Vitellogenins/blood
  • Trout/blood
  • Male
  • Estrogens/metabolism
  • Water Purification
  • Animals
  • Confounding Factors (Epidemiology)
  • Sewage
  • Sex Determination Processes
  • Denmark
  • Female


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