Evaluation of DNA damage and stress in wildlife chronically exposed to low-dose, low-dose rate radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant accident

Environ Int. 2021 Oct;155:106675. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106675. Epub 2021 Jun 10.


The health effects associated with chronic low-dose, low-dose rate (LD-LDR) exposures to environmental radiation are uncertain. All dose-effect studies conducted outside controlled laboratory conditions are challenged by inherent complexities of ecological systems and difficulties quantifying dose to free-ranging organisms in natural environments. Consequently, the effects of chronic LD-LDR radiation exposures on wildlife health remain poorly understood and much debated. Here, samples from wild boar (Sus scrofa leucomystax) and rat snakes (Elaphe spp.) were collected between 2016 and 2018 across a gradient of radiation exposures in Fukushima, Japan. In vivo biomarkers of DNA damage and stress were evaluated as a function of multiple measurements of radiation dose. Specifically, we assessed frequencies of dicentric chromosomes (Telomere-Centromere Fluorescence in situ Hybridization: TC-FISH), telomere length (Telo-FISH, qPCR), and cortisol hormone levels (Enzyme Immunoassay: EIA) in wild boar, and telomere length (qPCR) in snakes. These biological parameters were then correlated to robust calculations of radiation dose rate at the time of capture and plausible upper bound lifetime dose, both of which incorporated internal and external dose. No significant relationships were observed between dicentric chromosome frequencies or telomere length and dose rate at capture or lifetime dose (p value range: 0.20-0.97). Radiation exposure significantly associated only with cortisol, where lower concentrations were associated with higher dose rates (r2 = 0.58; p < 0.0001), a relationship that was likely due to other (unmeasured) factors. Our results suggest that wild boar and snakes chronically exposed to LD-LDR radiation sufficient to prohibit human occupancy were not experiencing significant adverse health effects as assessed by biomarkers of DNA damage and stress.

Keywords: Cortisol; Dicentric chromosomes; Fukushima; Low-dose; Low-dose rate radiation; Telomeres.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Cesium Radioisotopes / analysis
  • DNA Damage
  • Fukushima Nuclear Accident*
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Japan
  • Nuclear Power Plants
  • Radiation Monitoring*


  • Cesium Radioisotopes