Assessment of stress-related gene expression in the heavy metal-exposed nematode Caenorhabditis elegans: a potential biomarker for metal-induced toxicity monitoring and environmental risk assessment

Environ Toxicol Chem. 2006 Nov;25(11):2946-56. doi: 10.1897/05-676r.1.


The toxicity of cadmium, lead, chromium, and arsenite on Caenorhabditis elegans was investigated to identify sensitive biomarkers for environmental monitoring and risk assessment. Effects of these metals on stress-related gene expression, growth, reproduction, and mortality of C. elegans were investigated under laboratory conditions. The possibility of using C. elegans as a biosensor for environmental toxicity monitoring was also tested using a green fluorescent protein transgenic nematode. The 24-h median lethal concentrations of cadmium, lead, chromium, and arsenite in C. elegans were 846, 34, 115, and 92 mg/L, respectively. Cadmium exposure led to an increase in the expression of most of the genes tested. The degree of increase was more than threefold compared to control in heat shock protein 16.2, heat shock protein 70, metallothionein 2, cytochrome P450 family protein 35A2, glutathione-S-transferase 4, superoxide dismutase 1, catalase 2, C. elegans p53-like protein 1, and apoptosis enhancer 1 genes. The lead-, chromium-, and arsenite-exposed nematode, on the other hand, showed little change in gene expression. Alterations in growth and reproduction were observed in cadmium- and chromium-exposed worms. To consider a transgenic nematode as a biosensor for toxicity monitoring, the responses of stress-related gene promoters need to be tested with a variety of metals. The overall results suggest that cadmium exhibits a high level of tolerance compared to the other metals tested. Use of the responses of stress-related gene expression therefore has considerable potential as a sensitive biomarker for the diagnosis of cadmium contamination, and C. elegans seems to be a good biological model for this approach.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Arsenites / toxicity*
  • Biomarkers
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / drug effects*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Helminth Proteins / genetics
  • Helminth Proteins / metabolism*
  • Lethal Dose 50
  • Metals, Heavy / toxicity*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reproduction / drug effects
  • Risk Assessment
  • Soil Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Stress, Physiological


  • Arsenites
  • Biomarkers
  • Helminth Proteins
  • Metals, Heavy
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • arsenite