Journal Article

Rapid Sublethal Toxicity Assessment Using Bioluminescent <i>Caenorhabditis elegans</i>, a Novel Whole-Animal Metabolic Biosensor

Cristina Lagido, Debbie McLaggan, Aileen Flett, Jonathan Pettitt and L. Anne Glover

in Toxicological Sciences

Volume 109, issue 1, pages 88-95
Published in print May 2009 | ISSN: 1096-6080
Published online March 2009 | e-ISSN: 1096-0929 | DOI:
Rapid Sublethal Toxicity Assessment Using Bioluminescent Caenorhabditis elegans, a Novel Whole-Animal Metabolic Biosensor

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  • Medical Toxicology
  • Toxicology (Non-medical)


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Sublethal metabolic effects are informative toxicological end points. We used a rapid quantitative metabolic end point, bioluminescence of firefly luciferase expressing Caenorhabditis elegans, to assess effects of sublethal chronic exposure (19 h) to the oxidative stress agent and environmental pollutant cadmium (provided as chloride salt). Bioluminescence declined in a concentration-dependent manner in the concentration range tested (0–30μM Cd), with comparable sensitivity to reproduction and developmental assay end points (after 67 and 72 h, respectively). Cd concentrations that resulted in 20% reduction in bioluminescence (EC20) were 11.8–13.0μM, whereas the reproduction EC20 (67 h exposure) was 10.2μM. At low concentrations of Cd (≤ 15μM), the decline in bioluminescence reflected a drop in ATP levels. At Cd concentrations of 15–30μM, decreased bioluminescence was attributable both to effects of Cd on ATP levels and decreased production of luciferase proteins, concomitant with a decline in protein levels. We show that whole-animal bioluminescence is a valid toxicological end point and a rapid and sensitive predictor of effects of Cd exposure on development and reproduction. This provides a platform for high-throughput sublethal screening and will potentially contribute to reduction of testing in higher animals.

Keywords: Caenorhabditis elegans; sublethal toxicity screening; ATP; firefly luciferase; cadmium

Journal Article.  5214 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medical Toxicology ; Toxicology (Non-medical)

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