Life span-resolved nanotoxicology enables identification of age-associated neuromuscular vulnerabilities in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans

Environ Pollut. 2018 Feb:233:1095-1103. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.10.012. Epub 2017 Oct 12.


At present, the majority of investigations concerning nanotoxicology in the nematode C. elegans address short-term effects. While this approach allows for the identification of uptake pathways, exposition and acute toxicity, nanoparticle-organism interactions that manifest later in the adult life of C. elegans are missed. Here we show that a microhabitat composed of liquid S-medium and live bacteria in microtiter wells prolongs C. elegans longevity and is optimally suited to monitor chronic eNP-effects over the entire life span (about 34 days) of the nematode. Silver (Ag) nanoparticles reduced C. elegans life span in concentrations ≥10 μg/mL, whereas nano ZnO and CeO2 (1-160 μg/mL) had no effect on longevity. Monitoring of locomotion behaviors throughout the entire life span of C. elegans showed that Ag NPs accelerate the age-associated decline of swimming and increase of uncoordinated movements at concentrations of ≥10 μg/mL, whereas neuromuscular defects did not occur in response to ZnO and CeO2 NPs. By means of a fluorescing reporter worm expressing tryptophan hydroxylase-1::DsRed Ag NP-induced behavioral defects were correlated to axonal protein aggregation and neurodegeneration in single serotonergic HSN as well as sensory ADF neurons. Notably, serotonergic ADF neurons represented a sensitive target for Ag NPs in comparison to GABAergic neurons that showed no signs of degeneration under the same conditions. We conclude that due to its analogy to the jellylike boom culture of C. elegans on microbe-rich rotting plant material liquid S-medium culture in spatially confined microtiter wells represents a relevant as well as practical tool for comparative identification of age-resolved nanoparticle effects and vulnerabilities in a significant target organism. Consistent with this, specifically middle-aged nematodes showed premature neuromuscular defects after Ag NP-exposure.

Keywords: Aging; Environment; Habitat; Nanoparticles; Nanotoxicology; Nematodes; Neurotoxicity; Silver.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / drug effects
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Locomotion / drug effects
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Silver / toxicity
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*


  • Proteins
  • Silver