BackgroundOrganophosphate pesticides-OP-, like malathion, can alter the normal functioning of neuro-endocrine systems (e.g., hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid-HPT- axis), and to interfere on the thyroidal homeostasis. Through direct interactions with thyroid receptors, an/or indirectly via up-stream signalling pathways, from the HPT axis (i.e., negative feedback regulation), malathion possess the ability to affect integrity of thyroidal follicular tissue, and it can also block or delay its hormonal functioning. This insecticide can alter the majority of the ontogenetic processes, inducing several deformities, and also provoking decreases in the growth and survival patterns. The present study has been performed to determine the sublethal effects of malathion during the first month of life of the Senegalese sole, Solea senegalensis, and it is mainly focused on the metamorphosis phase. Different transcript expression levels (i.e. thyroid receptors, matrix and bone -Gla-proteins) and immunohistochemical patterns (i.e. thyroid hormones, osteocalcin, cell proliferation) have been analysed during the most critical phases of the flatfish metamorphosis, that is, through differentiation of thyroid system and skeletal development, migration of the eye, and further adaptation to benthic behaviours.ResultsIn early life stages of the Senegalese sole, the exposure to the highest concentration of malathion (6.25 μg/L) affected to the growth patterns, showing the exposed individuals, a reduction around 60 and 92% of the total length and the dry weigth, respectively. In paralell, a significant reduction of the thyroid follicles (i.e., size and number) it was also been recorded, in a dose-dependent way. Abnormal phenotypes induced in the exposed larvae, did not complete the process of metamorphosis, and displayed several morphological abnormalities and developmental disorders, which were mainly associated with the eye migration process, and with thyroidal and skeletal disorders (i.e., transcriptional and protein changes of thyroid hormones and receptors, and of matrix and bone Gla proteins distribution), that conduced to an inadequate adaptation to the benthic life.ConclusionsIn the Senegalese sole, the majority of the ontogenetic alterations induced by the exposure to malathion were mainly associated to the metamorphosis period, which is a thyroid-driven proccess. In fact, most crucial and transitional ontogenic events, appeared notably disturbed, for e.g., thyroid gland differentiation and functioning, migration of eye, skeletal development and benthonic behaviors.