Radiation and Environmental Biophysics

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 167–177 | Cite as

Transgenerational accumulation of radiation damage in small mammals chronically exposed to Chernobyl fallout

  • Nadezhda I. Ryabokon
  • R. I. Goncharova
Original Paper


The purpose of this investigation has been the analysis of the long-term development of biological damage in natural populations of a model mammalian species, the bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus, Schreber), which were chronically exposed to low doses of ionizing radiation over 22 animal generations within 10 years following the Chernobyl accident. The time course of the biological end-points (chromosome aberrations in bone marrow cells and embryonic lethality) was compared with the time course of the whole-body absorbed dose rate from external and internal exposure in the studied populations inhabiting monitoring sites in Belarus with different ground deposition of radionuclides. The yield of chromosome aberrations and, in lesser degree, embryonic lethality was associated with the radionuclide contamination of the monitoring areas in a dose-dependent manner. As a main feature of the long-term development of biological damage under low dose rate irradiation, permanently elevated levels of chromosome aberrations and an increasing frequency of embryonic lethality have developed over 22 animal generations. This contrasts with the assumption that the biological damage would gradually disappear since in the same period of time the whole-body absorbed dose rate decreased exponentially with a half-value time of about 2.5–3 years. Furthermore, gravid females were captured, and their offspring, born and grown up under contamination-free laboratory conditions, showed the same enhanced level of chromosome aberrations. Therefore the authors suggest that, along with the biological damage attributable to the individual exposure of each animal, the observed cellular and systemic effects reflect the transgenerational transmission and accumulation, via genetic and/or epigenetic pathways, of damage attributable to the chronic low-dose rate exposure of the preceding generations of animals. They also suggest that the level of the accumulated transmissible damage in the investigated populations will decrease in future due to the further recession of the chronic exposure and as a consequence of selection processes.


Dose Rate Chromosome Aberration Bank Vole Embryonic Lethality Absorb Dose Rate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was performed within the framework of the State Program of the Republic of Belarus for minimizing and overcoming consequences of the Chernobyl Accident (1986–2002). The authors wish to thank the administrations of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve for access to the zone and the reserve. We are indebted to former and present staff of the Antimutagenesis Laboratory, the Institute of Genetics and Cytology, NAS of Belarus, for enthusiastic field and laboratory assistance. We are grateful to Dr. M. Malko, the Institute of Physical and Chemical Radiation Problems, NAS of Belarus, for the recommendations in dose rate assessment. The authors especially acknowledge Prof. D. Harder, University of Göttingen, for critically reviewing the manuscript and helpful discussions that significantly improved this work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Genetics and CytologyNational Academy of Sciences of BelarusMinskRepublic of Belarus

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