Current evidence for a role of epigenetic mechanisms in response to ionizing radiation in an ecotoxicological context

Nele Horemans*, David J. Spurgeon, Catherine Lecomte-Pradines, Eline Saenen, Clare Bradshaw, Deborah Oughton, Ilze Rasnaca, Jorke H. Kamstra, Christelle Adam-Guillermin

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    The issue of potential long-term or hereditary effects for both humans and wildlife exposed to low doses (or dose rates)of ionising radiation is a major concern. Chronic exposure to ionising radiation, defined as an exposure over a large fraction of the organism's lifespan or even over several generations, can possibly have consequences in the progeny. Recent work has begun to show that epigenetics plays an important role in adaptation of organisms challenged to environmental stimulae. Changes to so-called epigenetic marks such as histone modifications, DNA methylation and non-coding RNAs result in altered transcriptomes and proteomes, without directly changing the DNA sequence. Moreover, some of these environmentally-induced epigenetic changes tend to persist over generations, and thus, epigenetic modifications are regarded as the conduits for environmental influence on the genome. Here, we review the current knowledge of possible involvement of epigenetics in the cascade of responses resulting from environmental exposure to ionising radiation. In addition, from a comparison of lab and field obtained data, we investigate evidence on radiation-induced changes in the epigenome and in particular the total or locus specific levels of DNA methylation. The challenges for future research and possible use of changes as an early warning (biomarker)of radiosensitivity and individual exposure is discussed. Such a biomarker could be used to detect and better understand the mechanisms of toxic action and inter/intra-species susceptibility to radiation within an environmental risk assessment and management context.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)469-483
    Number of pages15
    JournalEnvironmental Pollution
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019


    • Chernobyl
    • Chronic exposure
    • DNA methylation
    • Epigenetic marks
    • Fukushima
    • Gamma radiation
    • Multi-transgenerational
    • Nuclear accidents
    • Radioecology
    • Wildlife
    • Chernobyl accident
    • epigenetics
    • gamma radiation
    • long term exposure
    • radiation
    • review
    • wildlife


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