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J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2014;17(1):21-44. doi: 10.1080/10937404.2013.860318.

Potential input from metabolomics for exploring and understanding the links between environment and health.

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a INSERM UMR1085 IRSET , Rennes , France.


Humans may be exposed via their environment to multiple chemicals as a consequence of human activities and use of synthetic products. Little knowledge is routinely generated on the hazards of these chemical mixtures. The metabolomic approach is widely used to identify metabolic pathways modified by diseases, drugs, or exposures to toxicants. This review, based on the state of the art of the current applications of metabolomics in environmental health, attempts to determine whether metabolomics might constitute an original approach to the study of associations between multiple, low-dose environmental exposures in humans. Studying the biochemical consequences of complex environmental exposures is a challenge demanding the development of careful experimental and epidemiological designs, in order to take into account possible confounders associated with the high level of interindividual variability induced by different lifestyles. The choices of populations studied, sampling and storage procedures, statistical tools used, and system biology need to be considered. Suggestions for improved experimental and epidemiological designs are described. Evidence indicates that metabolomics may be a powerful tool in environmental health in the identification of both complex exposure biomarkers directly in human populations and modified metabolic pathways, in an attempt to improve understanding the underlying environmental causes of diseases. Nevertheless, the validity of biomarkers and relevancy of animal-to-human extrapolation remain key challenges that need to be properly explored.

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