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Caenorhabditis elegans as a powerful alternative model organism to promote research in genetic toxicology and biomedicine


In view of increased life expectancy the risk for disturbed integrity of genetic information increases. This inevitably holds the implication for higher incidence of age-related diseases leading to considerable cost increase in health care systems. To develop preventive strategies it is crucial to evaluate external and internal noxae as possible threats to our DNA. Especially the interplay of DNA damage response (DDR) and DNA repair (DR) mechanisms needs further deciphering. Moreover, there is a distinct need for alternative in vivo test systems for basic research and also risk assessment in toxicology. Especially the evaluation of combinational toxicity of environmentally present genotoxins and adverse effects of clinically used DNA damaging anticancer drugs is a major challenge for modern toxicology. This review focuses on the applicability of Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism to unravel and tackle scientific questions related to the biological consequences of genotoxin exposure and highlights methods for studying DDR and DR. In this regard large-scale in vivo screens of mixtures of chemicals and extensive parallel sequencing are highlighted as unique advantages of C. elegans. In addition, concise information regarding evolutionary conserved molecular mechanisms of the DDR and DR as well as currently available data obtained from the use of prototypical genotoxins and preferential read-outs of genotoxin testing are discussed. The use of established protocols, which are already available in the community, is encouraged to facilitate and further improve the implementation of C. elegans as a powerful genetic model system in genetic toxicology and biomedicine.

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I apologize for any literature that could not be cited due to space limitations. I thank G. Fritz (Düsseldorf, Germany) for critical reading and discussion of the manuscript; A. Jahn, J. Schmutzler and T. Hennecke from my group for help gathering results and images on fertility and apoptosis. Some strains were provided by the CGC, which is funded by NIH Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (P40 OD010440).

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Correspondence to Sebastian Honnen.

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Honnen, S. Caenorhabditis elegans as a powerful alternative model organism to promote research in genetic toxicology and biomedicine. Arch Toxicol 91, 2029–2044 (2017).

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  • C. elegans
  • Genotoxic stress
  • Alternative test system
  • DNA damage response
  • DNA repair