, Volume 24, Issue 6, pp 603-610

Environmentally relevant cadmium concentrations affect development and induce apoptosis of Paracentrotus lividus larvae cultured in vitro

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Sea urchin embryos and larvae represent suitable model systems on where to investigate the effects of heavy metals on development and cell viability. Here, we tested the toxic effects of low (10−12 M), medium (10−9 M), and high (10−6 M) cadmium chloride concentrations, mimicking unpolluted, moderately and highly polluted seawaters, respectively, on Paracentrotus lividus sea urchins offspring. Larvae were continuously treated from fertilization and inspected at time intervals comprised between 10 and 30 days of development. Delays and/or morphological abnormalities were firstly evident in larvae treated for 15 days with high cadmium (10−6 M) and for 25 days with medium cadmium (10−9 M). Major defects consisted in the reduction and lack of arms and skeleton elongation. No obvious differences with respect to controls were observed in embryos/larvae exposed to low cadmium (10−12 M), even after 30 days of exposure. Using in situ terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labeling assay (TUNEL) assay on larvae whole mounts, we detected apoptosis after 10 days of treatment with 10−6 and 10−9 M CdCl2, when no morphological abnormalities were recognizable yet. Supernumerary apoptotic cells were found in arm buds, ciliary bands, and apex. In conclusion, echinoderm embryos and larvae represent candidates of choice for the study of stress and defense mechanisms activated by cadmium exposure.