Cooler temperatures slow the repair of DNA damage in tadpoles exposed to ultraviolet radiation: Implications for amphibian declines at high altitude

Samuel A. Morison, Rebecca L. Cramp, Lesley A. Alton, Craig E. Franklin

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Ultraviolet B radiation (UVBR) damages the DNA of exposed cells, causing dimers to form between adjacent pyrimidine nucleotides. These dimers block DNA replication, causing mutations and apoptosis. Most organisms utilize biochemical or biophysical DNA repair strategies to restore DNA structure; however, as with most biological reactions, these processes are likely to be thermally sensitive. Tadpoles exposed to elevated UVBR at low environmental temperatures have significantly higher rates of mortality and developmental deformities compared with tadpoles exposed to the same levels of UVBR at higher environmental temperatures. We hypothesized that low environmental temperatures impair the primary enzymatic (photolyase) DNA repair pathway in amphibians, leading to the accumulation of DNA damage. To test this hypothesis, we compared DNA repair rates and photolyase gene expression patterns in Limnodynastes peronii. Tadpoles were acutely exposed to UVBR for 1 hr at either 20 or 30°C, and we measured DNA damage and photolyase expression levels at intervals following this exposure. Temperature had a significant effect on the rate of DNA repair, with repair at 30°C occurring twice as fast as repair at 20°C. Photolyase gene expression (6-4 PP and CPD) was significantly upregulated by UVBR exposure, with expression levels increasing within 6 hr of UVBR exposure. CPD expression levels were not significantly affected by temperature, but 6-4 PP expression was significantly higher in tadpoles in the 30°C treatment within 12 hr of UVBR exposure. These data support the hypothesis that DNA repair rates are thermally sensitive in tadpoles and may explain why enigmatic amphibian declines are higher in montane regions where UVBR levels are naturally elevated and environmental temperatures are lower.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1225-1234
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • amphibian declines
  • chytridiomycosis
  • cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer
  • disease
  • enzyme efficiency
  • montane
  • photolyase
  • thermal sensitivity

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