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Effects of early life exposure to ultraviolet C radiation on mitochondrial DNA content, transcription, ATP production, and oxygen consumption in developing Caenorhabditis elegans

Maxwell CK Leung12, John P Rooney12, Ian T Ryde1, Autumn J Bernal2, Amanda S Bess12, Tracey L Crocker1, Alex Q Ji1 and Joel N Meyer12*

Author affiliations

1 Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

2 Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology 2013, 14:9  doi:10.1186/2050-6511-14-9

Published: 4 February 2013



Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is present in multiple copies per cell and undergoes dramatic amplification during development. The impacts of mtDNA damage incurred early in development are not well understood, especially in the case of types of mtDNA damage that are irreparable, such as ultraviolet C radiation (UVC)-induced photodimers.


We exposed first larval stage nematodes to UVC using a protocol that results in accumulated mtDNA damage but permits nuclear DNA (nDNA) repair. We then measured the transcriptional response, as well as oxygen consumption, ATP levels, and mtDNA copy number through adulthood.


Although the mtDNA damage persisted to the fourth larval stage, we observed only a relatively minor ~40% decrease in mtDNA copy number. Transcriptomic analysis suggested an inhibition of aerobic metabolism and developmental processes; mRNA levels for mtDNA-encoded genes were reduced ~50% at 3 hours post-treatment, but recovered and, in some cases, were upregulated at 24 and 48 hours post-exposure. The mtDNA polymerase γ was also induced ~8-fold at 48 hours post-exposure. Moreover, ATP levels and oxygen consumption were reduced in response to UVC exposure, with marked reductions of ~50% at the later larval stages.


These results support the hypothesis that early life exposure to mitochondrial genotoxicants could result in mitochondrial dysfunction at later stages of life, thereby highlighting the potential health hazards of time-delayed effects of these genotoxicants in the environment.

Caenorhabditis elegans; Mitochondrial DNA damage; Mitochondrial dysfunction; Ultraviolet C radiation; Early life exposure; Genotoxicity