The ability to protect the genome from harmful DNA damage is critical for maintaining genome stability and protecting against disease, including cancer. Many echinoderms, including sea urchins, are noted for the lack of neoplastic disease, but there are few studies investigating susceptibility to DNA damage and capacity for DNA repair in these animals. In this study, DNA damage was induced in adult sea urchin coelomocytes and larvae by exposure to a variety of genotoxicants [UV-C (0–3000 J/m2), hydrogen peroxide (0–10mM), bleomycin (0–300 µM) and methylmethanesulfonate (MMS, 0-30mM)] and the capacity for repair was measured over a 24-h period of recovery. Larvae were more sensitive than coelomocytes, with higher levels of initial DNA damage (fast micromethod) for all genotoxicants except MMS and increased levels of mortality 24h following treatment for all genotoxicants. The larvae that survived were able to efficiently repair damage within 24-h recovery. The ability to repair DNA damage differed depending on treatments, but both larvae and coelomocytes were able to most efficiently repair H2O2-induced damage. Time profiles of expression of a panel of DNA repair genes (ddb1, ercc1, xpc, xrcc1, pcna, ogg1, parp1, parp2, ape, brca1, rad51, xrcc2, xrcc3, xrcc4, xrcc5, xrcc6 and gadd45), throughout the period of recovery, showed greater gene induction in coelomocytes compared with larvae, with particularly high expression of xrcc1, ercc1, parp2 and pcna. The heterogeneous response of larvae to DNA damage may reflect a strategy whereby a subset of the population is equipped to withstand acute genotoxic stress, while the ability of coelomocytes to resist and repair DNA damage confirm their significant role in protection against disease. Consideration of DNA repair capacity is critical for understanding effects of genotoxicants on organisms, in addition to shedding light on life strategies and disease susceptibility.

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