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Mutat Res. 2002 Jan 29;499(1):13-25.

Toxicology and genetic toxicology in the new era of "toxicogenomics": impact of "-omics" technologies.

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Miami Valley Laboratories, The Procter & Gamble Co., P.O. Box 538707, Cincinnati, OH 45253, USA.


The unprecedented advances in molecular biology during the last two decades have resulted in a dramatic increase in knowledge about gene structure and function, an immense database of genetic sequence information, and an impressive set of efficient new technologies for monitoring genetic sequences, genetic variation, and global functional gene expression. These advances have led to a new sub-discipline of toxicology: "toxicogenomics". We define toxicogenomics as "the study of the relationship between the structure and activity of the genome (the cellular complement of genes) and the adverse biological effects of exogenous agents". This broad definition encompasses most of the variations in the current usage of this term, and in its broadest sense includes studies of the cellular products controlled by the genome (messenger RNAs, proteins, metabolites, etc.). The new "global" methods of measuring families of cellular molecules, such as RNA, proteins, and intermediary metabolites have been termed "-omic" technologies, based on their ability to characterize all, or most, members of a family of molecules in a single analysis. With these new tools, we can now obtain complete assessments of the functional activity of biochemical pathways, and of the structural genetic (sequence) differences among individuals and species, that were previously unattainable. These powerful new methods of high-throughput and multi-endpoint analysis include gene expression arrays that will soon permit the simultaneous measurement of the expression of all human genes on a single "chip". Likewise, there are powerful new methods for protein analysis (proteomics: the study of the complement of proteins in the cell) and for analysis of cellular small molecules (metabonomics: the study of the cellular metabolites formed and degraded under genetic control). This will likely be extended in the near future to other important classes of biomolecules such as lipids, carbohydrates, etc. These assays provide a general capability for global assessment of many classes of cellular molecules, providing new approaches to assessing functional cellular alterations. These new methods have already facilitated significant advances in our understanding of the molecular responses to cell and tissue damage, and of perturbations in functional cellular systems. As a result of this rapidly changing scientific environment, regulatory and industrial toxicology practice is poised to undergo dramatic change during the next decade. These advances present exciting opportunities for improved methods of identifying and evaluating potential human and environmental toxicants, and of monitoring the effects of exposures to these toxicants. These advances also present distinct challenges. For example, the significance of specific changes and the performance characteristics of new methods must be fully understood to avoid misinterpretation of data that could lead to inappropriate conclusions about the toxicity of a chemical or a mechanism of action. We discuss the likely impact of these advances on the fields of general and genetic toxicology, and risk assessment. We anticipate that these new technologies will (1) lead to new families of biomarkers that permit characterization and efficient monitoring of cellular perturbations, (2) provide an increased understanding of the influence of genetic variation on toxicological outcomes, and (3) allow definition of environmental causes of genetic alterations and their relationship to human disease. The broad application of these new approaches will likely erase the current distinctions among the fields of toxicology, pathology, genetic toxicology, and molecular genetics. Instead, a new integrated approach will likely emerge that involves a comprehensive understanding of genetic control of cellular functions, and of cellular responses to alterations in normal molecular structure and function.

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