Benzo[a]pyrene and Caenorhabditis elegans: defining the genotoxic potential in an organism lacking the classical CYP1A1 pathway

Mustafa Abbass, Yuzhi Chen, Volker M. Arlt, Stephen R. Stürzenbaum*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) is bioactivated in most organisms by the cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, mainly CYP1A1, ultimately resulting in the reactive metabolite BaP-7,8-dihydrodiol-9,10-epoxide (BPDE) capable of covalently binding to DNA and forming adducts. This step has been defined as the key process in cancer initiation in humans. However, limited knowledge is available about the consequences of BaP exposure in organisms lacking this classical CYP1A1 pathway, one example is the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. The aim of this study was to define the genotoxic potential of BaP in C. elegans and to advance our understanding of xenobiotic processing in the absence of the CYP1A1 pathway. Exposure to high concentrations of BaP (0–40 µM) significantly affected life cycle endpoints of C. elegans, which were manifested by a reduced reproductive output and shortened life span. An optimised comet assay revealed that DNA damage increased in a dose-dependent manner; however, no bulky DNA adducts (dG-N2-BPDE) were observed by 32P-postlabelling. Global transcriptomic analysis by RNA-Seq identified responsive transcript families, most prominently members of the cyp-35 and UDP-glucuronosyltransferases (UGTs) enzyme families, both of which are linked to xenobiotic metabolism. Strains harbouring mutations in the cyp-35A2 and cyp-35A3 genes were notably less prone to BaP-mediated toxicity, and BaP led to longevity in cyp-35A5 mutants. In summary, BaP induces transcriptional, genotoxic and phenotypic responses in C. elegans, despite the absence of the classical CYP1A1 bioactivation pathway. This provides first evidence that parallel pathways are implicated in BaP metabolism in C. elegans and this seems to be mediated via the cyp-35 pathway.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1055-1069
Number of pages15
JournalArchives of Toxicology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Benzo[a]pyrene
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • DNA adducts
  • Xenobiotics


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