Increasing anthropogenic activities are creating environmental pressures that threaten marine ecosystems. Effective environmental health assessment requires the development of rapid, sensitive, and cost-effective tools to predict negative impacts at the individual and ecosystem levels. To this end, a number of biological assays using a variety of cells and organisms measuring different end points have been developed for biomonitoring programs. The sea urchin fertilization/development test has been useful for evaluating environmental toxicology and it has been proposed that sea urchin coelomocytes represent a novel cellular biosensor of environmental stress. In this study we investigated the sensitivity of coelomocytes from the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus to a variety of DNA-damaging agents including ultraviolet (UV) radiation, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), methylmethane sulfonate (MMS) and benzo[a]pyrene (BaP). LD50 values determined for coelomocytes after 24 h of exposure to these DNA damaging agents indicated a high level of resistance to all treatments. Significant increases in the formation of apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP or abasic) sites in DNA were only detected using high doses of H2O2, MMS and UV radiation. Comparison of sea urchin coelomocytes with hemocytes from the gastropod mollusk Aplysia dactylomela and the decapod crustacean Panulirus argus indicated that sensitivity to different DNA damaging agents varies between species. The high level of resistance to genotoxic agents suggests that DNA damage may not be an informative end point for environmental health assessment using sea urchin coelomocytes however, natural resistance to DNA damaging agents may have implications for the occurrence of neoplastic disease in these animals.

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