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PLoS One. 2017 Jan 18;12(1):e0169408. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169408. eCollection 2017.

A New Statistical Approach to Characterize Chemical-Elicited Behavioral Effects in High-Throughput Studies Using Zebrafish.

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Bioinformatics Research Center, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, United States of America.
Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, United States of America.
Department of Biological Sciences, Center for Human Health and the Environment, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, United States of America.


Zebrafish have become an important alternative model for characterizing chemical bioactivity, partly due to the efficiency at which systematic, high-dimensional data can be generated. However, these new data present analytical challenges associated with scale and diversity. We developed a novel, robust statistical approach to characterize chemical-elicited effects in behavioral data from high-throughput screening (HTS) of all 1,060 Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCast™) chemicals across 5 concentrations at 120 hours post-fertilization (hpf). Taking advantage of the immense scale of data for a global view, we show that this new approach reduces bias introduced by extreme values yet allows for diverse response patterns that confound the application of traditional statistics. We have also shown that, as a summary measure of response for local tests of chemical-associated behavioral effects, it achieves a significant reduction in coefficient of variation compared to many traditional statistical modeling methods. This effective increase in signal-to-noise ratio augments statistical power and is observed across experimental periods (light/dark conditions) that display varied distributional response patterns. Finally, we integrated results with data from concomitant developmental endpoint measurements to show that appropriate statistical handling of HTS behavioral data can add important biological context that informs mechanistic hypotheses.

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