Later Life Consequences of Developmental Mitochondrial DNA Damage in C. elegans

Thumbnail Image




Rooney, John Patrick


Meyer, Joel N

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



Mitochondria are responsible for producing the vast majority of cellular ATP, and are therefore critical to organismal health [1]. They contain thir own genomes (mtDNA) which encode 13 proteins that are all subunits of the mitochondrial respiratory chain (MRC) and are essential for oxidative phosphorylation [2]. mtDNA is present in multiple copies per cell, usually between 103 and 104 , though this number is reduced during certain developmental stages [3, 4]. The health of the mitochondrial genome is also important to the health of the organism, as mutations in mtDNA lead to human diseases that collectively affect approximately 1 in 4000 people [5, 6]. mtDNA is more susceptible than nuclear DNA (nucDNA) to damage by many environmental pollutants, for reasons including the absence of Nucleotide Excision Repair (NER) in the mitochondria [7]. NER is a highly functionally conserved DNA repair pathway that removes bulky, helix distorting lesions such as those caused by ultraviolet C (UVC) radiation and also many environmental toxicants, including benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) [8]. While these lesions cannot be repaired, they are slowly removed through a process that involves mitochondrial dynamics and autophagy [9, 10]. However, when present during development in C. elegans, this damage reduces mtDNA copy number and ATP levels [11]. We hypothesize that this damage, when present during development, will result in mitochondrial dysfunction and increase the potential for adverse outcomes later in life.

To test this hypothesis, 1st larval stage (L1) C. elegans are exposed to 3 doses of 7.5J/m2 ultraviolet C radiation 24 hours apart, leading to the accumulation of mtDNA damage [9, 11]. After exposure, many mitochondrial endpoints are assessed at multiple time points later in life. mtDNA and nucDNA damage levels and genome copy numbers are measured via QPCR and real-time PCR , respectively, every 2 day for 10 days. Steady state ATP levels are measured via luciferase expressing reporter strains and traditional ATP extraction methods. Oxygen consumption is measured using a Seahorse XFe24 extra cellular flux analyzer. Gene expression changes are measured via real time PCR and targeted metabolomics via LC-MS are used to investigate changes in organic acid, amino acid and acyl-carnitine levels. Lastly, nematode developmental delay is assessed as growth, and measured via imaging and COPAS biosort.

I have found that despite being removed, UVC induced mtDNA damage during development leads to persistent deficits in energy production later in life. mtDNA copy number is permanently reduced, as are ATP levels, though oxygen consumption is increased, indicating inefficient or uncoupled respiration. Metabolomic data and mutant sensitivity indicate a role for NADPH and oxidative stress in these results, and exposed nematodes are more sensitive to the mitochondrial poison rotenone later in life. These results fit with the developmental origin of health and disease hypothesis, and show the potential for environmental exposures to have lasting effects on mitochondrial function.

Lastly, we are currently working to investigate the potential for irreparable mtDNA lesions to drive mutagenesis in mtDNA. Mutations in mtDNA lead to a wide range of diseases, yet we currently do not understand the environmental component of what causes them. In vitro evidence suggests that UVC induced thymine dimers can be mutagenic [12]. We are using duplex sequencing of C. elegans mtDNA to determine mutation rates in nematodes exposed to our serial UVC protocol. Furthermore, by including mutant strains deficient in mitochondrial fission and mitophagy, we hope to determine if deficiencies in these processes will further increase mtDNA mutation rates, as they are implicated in human diseases.






Rooney, John Patrick (2015). Later Life Consequences of Developmental Mitochondrial DNA Damage in C. elegans. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.