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Health Phys. 2010 Sep;99(3):371-9. doi: 10.1097/HP.0b013e3181cfe0dd.

Preconceptional paternal exposure to depleted uranium: transmission of genetic damage to offspring.

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  • 1Scientific Research Department, Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI), Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, MD 20889-5603, USA.


Depleted uranium (DU) is an alpha particle emitter and radioactive heavy metal used in military applications. Due to internalization of DU during military operations and the ensuing chronic internal exposure to DU, there are concerns regarding its potential health effects. Preconceptional paternal irradiation has been implicated as a causal factor in childhood cancer and it has been suggested that this paternal exposure to radiation may play a role in the occurrence of leukemia and other cancers to offspring. Similarly, in vivo heavy metal studies have demonstrated that carcinogenic effects can occur in unexposed offspring. Using a transgenic mouse system employing a lambda shuttle vector allowing mutations (in the lacI gene) to be analyzed in vitro, we have investigated the possibility that chronic preconceptional paternal DU exposure can lead to transgenerational transmission of genomic instability. The mutation frequencies in vector recovered from the bone marrow cells of the F1 offspring of male parents exposed to low, medium, and high doses of internalized DU for 7 mo were evaluated and compared to control, tantalum, nickel, and gamma radiation F1 samples. Results demonstrate that as paternal DU-dose increased there was a trend towards higher mutation frequency in vector recovered from the DNA obtained from bone marrow of F1 progeny; medium and high dose DU exposure to P1 fathers resulted in a significant increase in mutation frequency in F1 offspring (3.57 +or - 0.37 and 4.81 + or - 0.43 x 10; p < 0.001) in comparison to control (2.28 + or - 0.31 x 10). The mutation frequencies from F1 offspring of low dose DU, Ta- or Ni-implanted fathers (2. 71 + or - 0.35, 2.38 + or - 0.35, and 2.93 + or - 0.39 x 10, respectively) were not significantly different than control levels (2.28 + or - 0.31 x 10). Offspring from Co (4 Gy) irradiated fathers did demonstrate an increased lacI mutation frequency (4.69 + or - 0.48 x 10) as had been shown previously. To evaluate the role of radiation involved in the observed DU effects, males were exposed to equal concentrations (50 mg U L) of either enriched uranium or DU in their drinking water for 2 mo prior to breeding. A comparison of these offspring indicated that there was a specific-activity dependent increase in offspring bone marrow mutation frequency. Taken together these uranyl nitrate data support earlier results in other model systems showing that radiation can play a role in DU-induced biological effects in vitro. However, since the lacI mutation model measures point mutations and cannot measure large deletions that are characteristic of radiation damage, the role of DU chemical effects in the observed offspring mutation frequency increase may also be significant. Regardless of the question of DU-radiation vs. DU-chemical effects, the data indicate that there exists a route for transgenerational transmission of factor(s) leading to genomic instability in F1 progeny from DU-exposed fathers.

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