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Toxicol Lett. 2011 Mar 5;201(2):143-51. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2010.12.019. Epub 2010 Dec 30.

Discriminating classes of developmental toxicants using gene expression profiling in the embryonic stem cell test.

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Laboratory for Health Protection Research, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands.


The embryonic stem cell test (EST) has been shown to be a promising in vitro method for the prediction of developmental toxicity. In our previous studies, we demonstrated that the implementation of gene expression analysis in the EST may further improve the identification of developmental toxicants. In the present study, we investigated if gene expression profiling could be used to discriminate compound classes with distinct modes of action (MoA) using the EST protocol. Gene expression data of our previous study were used and were analyzed of embryonic stem cell (ESC) differentiation cultures exposed to six compounds belonging to two classes with distinct MoA, namely phthalates and triazoles. We used three approaches to study class-characteristic gene regulation that may be useful for discrimination of compound classes. First, at the individual gene level, gene signatures characteristic for each class were identified that successfully discriminated both classes using principal component analysis. Second, at the functional level, enriched gene ontology (GO) biological processes showed their usefulness for class discrimination via hierarchical clustering. Third, two previously identified gene sets, which we designed to predict developmental toxicity, appeared successful in separating phthalate from triazole compounds. In summary, we established the possibility to discriminate between compound classes in the EST system using three different specific transcriptomics-based approaches. Differential gene expression information specific for the class of compound under study may be employed to optimize prioritization of compounds within that class for further testing.

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