UV Radiation-Induced Damage at Molecular Level

  • Swati Sen Mandi


Of the two fractions of solar UV radiation present in earth’s atmosphere, UV-B with its high energy corresponding to its short wavelength is known to be “most hazardous” with UV-A of longer wavelength and consequent lower energy of impact constituting the apparently innocuous fraction; since the 1990s, however UV-A also has been recognized as a harmful component of UV radiation although functioning by different mode of action (compared to UV-B). With an increase in fluence of UV radiation, as a consequence of stratospheric ozone thinning and associated detection of ‘ozone hole’ during the later part of the last century, studies on damaging effect of UV on life forms have drawn greater attention than before- the primary focus being on plants, the primary producers on earth, that due to their stationary life style prevail under the brunt of enhancing UV radiation. While early studies on UV damaging effects vis-a`-vis survival of life forms on earth have often been conducted in closed chamber, such studies do not provide realistic understanding since closed chamber environment lack a) interaction between UV and other wave bands including the Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) b) quality and intensity of natural UV radiation that remain unrepresented in artificial UV lamps. This establishes that for developing an understanding on effects of UV on plants, manifested as resultant of damage countered by repair/UV acclimation process in plants. For determining survival potential in plants thus it is important to undertake studies in open field under conditions of natural balance between UV-B/UV-A and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR). Such studies conducted under weather variations and also at different (latitude/altitude) locations that provide natural variation of UV fluence would provide useful experimental data for developing comprehensive understanding on UV intensity-related survival of life forms on earth. Difference in UV fluence at different altitudes/latitudes as well as intensity/dose variation at different times of the day and under variation of weather/aerosol/cloud cover evoke characteristic biological impacts.

UV-B is directly absorbed by cellular chromophores such as DNA, proteins (containing aromatic amino acids), and phospholipids. DNA, being the major target of UV radiation, incurs direct strand breaks, both double and single stranded breaks (DSB and SSB) as a result of phosphodiester bond breakage between adjacent nucleotides. In addition to DNA strand breaks, UV induced covalent linkage formation of double bonds between adjacent pyrimidine bases leads to formation of photodimers that constitute major DNA lesions; different types of photodimers produced include cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer (CPD) and 6-4 pyrimidine-pyrimidone dimer (6-4PP). DNA damages are particularly hazardous since this causes disruption in the cell cycle process which, if not repaired in time, would lead to programmed cell death/apoptosis. UV-B radiation causes photolysis of proteins through disruption of tertiary structure either directly (by UV-B) or through UV-induced (both UV-B and UV-A) ROS. Lipids are also affected by UV radiation as unsaturated fatty acids of plant cell membrane (target of UV radiation) undergo peroxidation that leads to breakdown of membrane structure and function. Indirect effect of UV radiation is mediated by a range of (nonspecific) reactive oxygen species (ROS), viz., H2O2, OH, O2, and singlet oxygen (1O2); of these, singlet oxygen is the major UV-A-induced ROS that is involved in UV-A-mediated cell inactivation.

ROS are formed (a) directly by energy transfer from UV radiation via photosensitizers such as riboflavin, tryptophan, pterin, and other small molecules and also (b) indirectly as a by-product of electron transport chain in mitochondria, chloroplasts, and other organelles. ROS produced in the organelles are released into the cytoplasm through UV-induced damage of the organellar membranes; these are referred to as “unaccounted” ROS that together with other ROS in the cytoplasm constitute a population of nonspecific ROS functioning in several ROS-mediated cellular activities. UV-B damages cell membranes by photo absorption-mediated peroxidation of unsaturated fatty acids that bring about variation in membrane lipid composition. Photosynthesis, the most important plant physiological process, is also adversely affected by UV radiation that affects both the photosystems (PSI and PSII) as well as the main enzyme of carbon fixation, i.e., Rubisco. Such cell molecular damages caused by UV radiation adversely affects growth, development, and general morphology of plants, thereby adversely affecting productivity by affecting photosynthesis of sensitive plants. In addition to plants, UV damaging effects have also been recorded in animal system, especially humans.


Photosynthetically Active Radiation Singlet Oxygen Aromatic Amino Acid Cyclobutane Pyrimidine Dimer Reactive Oxygen Species Species 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer (India) Pvt. Ltd. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Swati Sen Mandi
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Plant BiologyBose InstituteKolkataIndia

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