Multigenerational exposure to silver ions and silver nanoparticles reveals heightened sensitivity and epigenetic memory in Caenorhabditis elegans

Carolin L. Schultz, Anye Wamucho, Olga V. Tsyusko, Jason M. Unrine, Alison Crossley, Claus Svendsen, David J. Spurgeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


The effects from multigenerational exposures to engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) in their pristine and transformed states are currently unknown despite such exposures being an increasingly common scenario in natural environments. Here, we examine how exposure over 10 generations affects the sensitivity of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to pristine and sulfidized Ag ENPs and AgNO3. We also include populations that were initially exposed over six generations but kept unexposed for subsequent four generations to allow recovery from exposure. Toxicity of the different silver forms decreased in the order AgNO3, Ag ENPs and Ag2S ENPs. Continuous exposure to Ag ENPs and AgNO3 caused pronounced sensitization (approx. 10-fold) in the F2 generation, which was sustained until F10. This sensitization was less pronounced for Ag2S ENP exposures, indicating different toxicity mechanisms. Subtle changes in size and lifespan were also measured. In the recovery populations, the sensitivity to Ag ENPs and AgNO3 resulting from the initial multigenerational exposure persisted. Their response sensitivity for all endpoints was most closely related to the last ancestral exposed generation (F5), rather than unexposed controls. The mechanisms of transgenerational transfer of sensitivity are probably organized through the epigenome, and we encourage others to investigate such effects as a priority for mechanistic toxicology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20152911
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1832
StatePublished - Jun 15 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


  • Epigenetics
  • Multigenerational exposure
  • Nanotoxicology
  • Silver
  • Silver sulfide
  • Transgenerational effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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