Lack of transgenerational effects of ionizing radiation exposure from the Chernobyl accident

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Science  14 May 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6543, pp. 725-729
DOI: 10.1126/science.abg2365

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Genomics of radiation-induced damage

The potential adverse effects of exposures to radioactivity from nuclear accidents can include acute consequences such as radiation sickness, as well as long-term sequelae such as increased risk of cancer. There have been a few studies examining transgenerational risks of radiation exposure but the results have been inconclusive. Morton et al. analyzed papillary thyroid tumors, normal thyroid tissue, and blood from hundreds of survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear accident and compared them against those of unexposed patients. The findings offer insight into the process of radiation-induced carcinogenesis and characteristic patterns of DNA damage associated with environmental radiation exposure. In a separate study, Yeager et al. analyzed the genomes of 130 children and parents from families in which one or both parents had experienced gonadal radiation exposure related to the Chernobyl accident and the children were conceived between 1987 and 2002. Reassuringly, the authors did not find an increase in new germline mutations in this population.

Science, this issue p. eabg2538, p. 725


Effects of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear accident remain a topic of interest. We investigated germline de novo mutations (DNMs) in children born to parents employed as cleanup workers or exposed to occupational and environmental ionizing radiation after the accident. Whole-genome sequencing of 130 children (born 1987–2002) and their parents did not reveal an increase in the rates, distributions, or types of DNMs relative to the results of previous studies. We find no elevation in total DNMs, regardless of cumulative preconception gonadal paternal [mean = 365 milligrays (mGy), range = 0 to 4080 mGy] or maternal (mean = 19 mGy, range = 0 to 550 mGy) exposure to ionizing radiation. Thus, we conclude that, over this exposure range, evidence is lacking for a substantial effect on germline DNMs in humans, suggesting minimal impact from transgenerational genetic effects.

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