Evaluation of cataract formation in fish exposed to environmental radiation at Chernobyl and Fukushima

Adélaïde Lerebours, Justyn Regini, Roy A. Quinlan, Toshihiro Wada, Barbara Pierscionek, Martin Devonshire, Alexia A. Kalligeraki, Alice Uwineza, Laura Young, John M. Girkin, Phil Warwick, Kurt Smith, Masato Hoshino, Kentaro Uesugi, Naoto Yagi, Nick Terrill, Olga Shebanova, Tim Snow, Jim T. Smith

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Recent studies apparently finding deleterious effects of radiation exposure on cataract formation in birds and voles living near Chernobyl represent a major challenge to current radiation protection regulations. This study conducted an integrated assessment of radiation exposure on cataractogenesis using the most advanced technologies available to assess the cataract status of lenses extracted from fish caught at both Chernobyl in Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan. It was hypothesised that these novel data would reveal positive correlations between radiation dose and early indicators of cataract formation.

The structure, function and optical properties of lenses were analysed from atomic to millimetre length scales. We measured the short-range order of the lens crystallin proteins using Small Angle X-Ray Scattering (SAXS) at both the SPring-8 and DIAMOND synchrotrons, the profile of the graded refractive index generated by these proteins, the epithelial cell density and organisation and finally the focal length of each lens.

The results showed no evidence of a difference between the focal length, the epithelial cell densities, the refractive indices, the interference functions and the short-range order of crystallin proteins (X-ray diffraction patterns) in lens from fish exposed to different radiation doses. It could be argued that animals in the natural environment which developed cataract would be more likely, for example, to suffer predation leading to survivor bias. But the cross-length scale study presented here, by evaluating small scale molecular and cellular changes in the lens (pre-cataract formation) significantly mitigates against this issue.
Original languageEnglish
Article number165957
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date4 Aug 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 4 Aug 2023


  • Radiation
  • Cataract
  • Fish
  • Chernobyl
  • Fukushima
  • Radiocaesium
  • Radiostrontium
  • Dose
  • SAXs
  • UKRI
  • NERC
  • NE/L000393/1
  • EP/M010767/1
  • EP/I010173/1

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