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The effects of radionuclides on animal behavior.

  • Gagnaire, Beatrice1
  • Adam-Guillermin, Christelle
  • Bouron, Alexandre
  • Lestaevel, Philippe
  • 1 Laboratoire de Radioécologie et d'Ecotoxicologie, IRSN, Centre de Cadarache, Bat 186, 13115, Saint-Paul-Lez-Durance Cedex, France. [email protected] , (France)
Published Article
Reviews of environmental contamination and toxicology
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2011
DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4419-7615-4_2
PMID: 21170702


Concomitant with the expansion of the nuclear industry, the concentrations of several pollutants, radioactive or otherwise, including uranium, caesium, cadmium and cobalt, have increased over the last few decades. These elemental pollutants do exist in the environment and are a threat to many organisms. Behavior represents the integration of all the anatomical adaptations and physiological processes that occur within an organism. Compared to other biological endpoints, the effects of pollutants on animal behavior have been the focus of only a few studies. However, behavioral changes appear to be ideal for assessing the effects of pollutants on animal populations, because behavior links physiological functions with ecological processes. The alteration of behavioral responses can have severe implications for survival of individuals and of population of some species. Behavioral disruptions may derive from several underlying mechanisms: disruption of neuro-sensorial activity and of endocrines, or oxidative and metabolic disruptions. In this review, we presented an overview of the current literature in which the effects of radioactive pollutants on behavior in humans, rodents, fish and wildlife species are addressed. When possible, we have also indicated the potential underlying mechanisms of the behavioral alterations and parameters measured. In fried, chronic uranium contamination is associated with behavior alterations and mental disorders in humans, and cognitive deficits in rats. Comparative studies on depleted and enriched uranium effects in rats showed that chemical and radiological activities of this metal induced negative effects on several behavioral parameters and also produced brain oxidative stress. Uranium exposure also modifies feeding behavior of bivalves and reproductive behavior of fish. Studies of the effects of the Chernobyl accident shows that chronic irradiation to 137Cs induces both nervous system diseases and mental disorders in humans leading to increased suicides, as well as modification of preferred nesting sites, reduced hatching success and fecundity in birds that live in the Chernobyl zone. No significant effect from caesium exposure was shown in laboratory experiments with rats, but few studies were conducted. Data on radioactive cadmium are not available in the literature, but the effects of its metallic form have been well studied. Cadmium induces mental retardation and psychomotor alterations in exposed populations and increases anxiety in rats, leading to depression. Cadmium exposure also results in well-documented effects on feeding and burrowing behavior in several invertebrate species (crustaceans, gastropods, annelids, bivalves) and on different kinds of fish behavior (swimming activity, fast-start response, antipredatory behavior). Cobalt induces memory deficits in humans and may be involved in Alzheimer's disease; gamma irradiation by cobalt also decreases fecundity and alters mating behavior in insects. Collectively, data are lacking or are meagre on radionuclide pollutants, and a better knowledge of their actions on the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control animal behavior is needed.

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