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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Nele Horemans
  • David Spurgeon
  • Catherine Lecomte-Pradines
  • Eline Saenen
  • C. Bradshaw
  • Deborah Oughton
  • Ilza Rasnaca
  • Jorke Kamstra
  • Christelle Adam-Guillermin

Institutes & Expert groups

  • NERC-CEH - Natural Environment Research Council : Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • IRSN - Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety - Institut Radioprotection Sûreté Nucléaire
  • SU - Stockholm University
  • SU - Stockholm University, Department of Ecology, Environment, and Plant Sciences - Sweden
  • NMBU - Norwegian University of Life Sciences

Documents & links


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 pages14
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2019


  • Epigenetic marks, DNA methylation, Gamma radiation, Chronic exposure, Multi-transgenerational, Wildlife Chernobyl, Chernobyl, Fukushima, Nuclear accidents

ID: 5322313