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Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Aug;112(12):1236-48.

Discriminating different classes of toxicants by transcript profiling.

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Non-Clinical Drug Safety, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., Basel, Switzerland.


Male rats were treated with various model compounds or the appropriate vehicle controls. Most substances were either well-known hepatotoxicants or showed hepatotoxicity during preclinical testing. The aim of the present study was to determine if biological samples from rats treated with various compounds can be classified based on gene expression profiles. In addition to gene expression analysis using microarrays, a complete serum chemistry profile and liver and kidney histopathology were performed. We analyzed hepatic gene expression profiles using a supervised learning method (support vector machines; SVMs) to generate classification rules and combined this with recursive feature elimination to improve classification performance and to identify a compact subset of probe sets with potential use as biomarkers. Two different SVM algorithms were tested, and the models obtained were validated with a compound-based external cross-validation approach. Our predictive models were able to discriminate between hepatotoxic and nonhepatotoxic compounds. Furthermore, they predicted the correct class of hepatotoxicant in most cases. We provide an example showing that a predictive model built on transcript profiles from one rat strain can successfully classify profiles from another rat strain. In addition, we demonstrate that the predictive models identify nonresponders and are able to discriminate between gene changes related to pharmacology and toxicity. This work confirms the hypothesis that compound classification based on gene expression data is feasible.

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