Exposure to environmental radionuclides is associated with altered metabolic and immunity pathways in a wild rodent

Mol Ecol. 2019 Oct;28(20):4620-4635. doi: 10.1111/mec.15241. Epub 2019 Sep 30.


Wildlife inhabiting environments contaminated by radionuclides face putative detrimental effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, with biomarkers such as an increase in DNA damage and/or oxidative stress commonly associated with radiation exposure. To examine the effects of exposure to radiation on gene expression in wildlife, we conducted a de novo RNA sequencing study of liver and spleen tissues from a rodent, the bank vole Myodes glareolus. Bank voles were collected from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), where animals were exposed to elevated levels of radionuclides, and from uncontaminated areas near Kyiv, Ukraine. Counter to expectations, we did not observe a strong DNA damage response in animals exposed to radionuclides, although some signs of oxidative stress were identified. Rather, exposure to environmental radionuclides was associated with upregulation of genes involved in lipid metabolism and fatty acid oxidation in the livers - an apparent shift in energy metabolism. Moreover, using stable isotope analysis, we identified that fur from bank voles inhabiting the CEZ had enriched isotope values of nitrogen: such an increase is consistent with increased fatty acid metabolism, but also could arise from a difference in diet or habitat between the CEZ and elsewhere. In livers and spleens, voles inhabiting the CEZ were characterized by immunosuppression, such as impaired antigen processing, and activation of leucocytes involved in inflammatory responses. In conclusion, exposure to low dose environmental radiation impacts pathways associated with immunity and lipid metabolism, potentially as a stress-induced coping mechanism.

Keywords: Myodes glareolus; DNA repair; RNAseq; pollution; radionuclides; stable isotope.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arvicolinae
  • Chernobyl Nuclear Accident*
  • DNA Damage / radiation effects
  • DNA Repair / radiation effects
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Immune System / radiation effects
  • Lipid Metabolism / genetics
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology*
  • Liver / immunology
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Mutagens / adverse effects
  • Oxidation-Reduction / radiation effects
  • Oxidative Stress / radiation effects
  • Radiation Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Radiation, Ionizing
  • Radioisotopes / adverse effects
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Spleen / pathology*
  • Ukraine


  • Fatty Acids
  • Mutagens
  • Radioisotopes

Associated data

  • GENBANK/SRP15797