The current study investigated life stage, tissue and cell dependent sensitivity to ionizing radiation of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Results showed that irradiation of post mitotic L4 stage larvae induced no significant effects with respect to mortality, morbidity or reproduction at either acute dose ≤6 Gy (1500 mGy·h-1) or chronic exposure ≤15 Gy (≤100 mGy·h-1). In contrast, chronic exposure from the embryo to the L4-young adult stage caused a dose and dose-rate dependent reprotoxicity with 43% reduction in total brood size at 6.7 Gy (108 mGy·h-1). Systematic irradiation of the different developmental stages showed that the most sensitive life stage was L1 to young L4. Exposure during these stages was associated with dose-rate dependent genotoxic effects, resulting in a 1.8 to 2 fold increase in germ cell apoptosis in larvae subjected to 40 or 100 mGy·h-1, respectively. This was accompanied by a dose-rate dependent reduction in the number of spermatids, which was positively correlated to the reprotoxic effect (0.99, PCC). RNAseq analysis of nematodes irradiated from L1 to L4 stage revealed a significant enrichment of differentially expressed genes related to both male and hermaphrodite reproductive processes. Gene network analysis revealed effects related to down-regulation of genes required for spindle formation and sperm meiosis/maturation, including smz-1, smz-2 and htas-1. Furthermore, the expression of a subset of 28 set-17 regulated Major Sperm Proteins (MSP) required for spermatid production was correlated (R2 0.80) to the reduction in reproduction and the number of spermatids. Collectively these observations corroborate the impairment of spermatogenesis as the major cause of gamma radiation induced life-stage dependent reprotoxic effect. Furthermore, the progeny of irradiated nematodes showed significant embryonal DNA damage that was associated with persistent effect on somatic growth. Unexpectedly, these nematodes maintained much of their reproductive capacity in spite of the reduced growth.
Keywords: Caenorhabditis elegans; Early life stages; Ionizing gamma radiation; Reprotoxicity; Spermatogenesis.
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