A systems biology analysis of reproductive toxicity effects induced by multigenerational exposure to ionizing radiation in C. elegans

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2021 Dec 1;225:112793. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2021.112793. Epub 2021 Sep 17.


Understanding the effects of chronic exposure to pollutants over generations is of primary importance for the protection of humans and the environment; however, to date, knowledge on the molecular mechanisms underlying multigenerational adverse effects is scarce. We employed a systems biology approach to analyze effects of chronic exposure to gamma radiation at molecular, tissue and individual levels in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Our data show a decrease of 23% in the number of offspring on the first generation F0 and more than 40% in subsequent generations F1, F2 and F3. To unveil the impact on the germline, an in-depth analysis of reproductive processes involved in gametes formation was performed for all four generations. We measured a decrease in the number of mitotic germ cells accompanied by increased cell-cycle arrest in the distal part of the gonad. Further impact on the germline was manifested by decreased sperm quantity and quality. In order to obtain insight in the molecular mechanisms leading to decreased fecundity, gene expression was investigated via whole genome RNA sequencing. The transcriptomic analysis revealed modulation of transcription factors, as well as genes involved in stress response, unfolded protein response, lipid metabolism and reproduction. Furthermore, a drastic increase in the number of differentially expressed genes involved in defense response was measured in the last two generations, suggesting a cumulative stress effect of ionizing radiation exposure. Transcription factor binding site enrichment analysis and the use of transgenic strain identified daf-16/FOXO as a master regulator of genes differentially expressed in response to radiation. The presented data provide new knowledge with respect to the molecular mechanisms involved in reproductive toxic effects and accumulated stress resulting from multigenerational exposure to ionizing radiation.

Keywords: Caenorhabditis elegans; DAF-16/FOXO; Germ cells; Ionizing gamma radiation; Multigenerational effects; Reproductive toxicity; Spermatogenesis; Transcriptomic stress response.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans* / genetics
  • Germ Cells
  • Humans
  • Radiation, Ionizing
  • Systems Analysis
  • Systems Biology*