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PLoS One. 2017 May 22;12(5):e0177902. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177902. eCollection 2017.

Real-time cell toxicity profiling of Tox21 10K compounds reveals cytotoxicity dependent toxicity pathway linkage.

Author information

Kelly Government Solutions, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America.
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, Maryland, United States of America.
US Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States of America.
Sciome, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America.
Division of the National Toxicology Program, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America.


Cytotoxicity is a commonly used in vitro endpoint for evaluating chemical toxicity. In support of the U.S. Tox21 screening program, the cytotoxicity of ~10K chemicals was interrogated at 0, 8, 16, 24, 32, & 40 hours of exposure in a concentration dependent fashion in two cell lines (HEK293, HepG2) using two multiplexed, real-time assay technologies. One technology measures the metabolic activity of cells (i.e., cell viability, glo) while the other evaluates cell membrane integrity (i.e., cell death, flor). Using glo technology, more actives and greater temporal variations were seen in HEK293 cells, while results for the flor technology were more similar across the two cell types. Chemicals were grouped into classes based on their cytotoxicity kinetics profiles and these classes were evaluated for their associations with activity in the Tox21 nuclear receptor and stress response pathway assays. Some pathways, such as the activation of H2AX, were associated with the fast-responding cytotoxicity classes, while others, such as activation of TP53, were associated with the slow-responding cytotoxicity classes. By clustering pathways based on their degree of association to the different cytotoxicity kinetics labels, we identified clusters of pathways where active chemicals presented similar kinetics of cytotoxicity. Such linkages could be due to shared underlying biological processes between pathways, for example, activation of H2AX and heat shock factor. Others involving nuclear receptor activity are likely due to shared chemical structures rather than pathway level interactions. Based on the linkage between androgen receptor antagonism and Nrf2 activity, we surmise that a subclass of androgen receptor antagonists cause cytotoxicity via oxidative stress that is associated with Nrf2 activation. In summary, the real-time cytotoxicity screen provides informative chemical cytotoxicity kinetics data related to their cytotoxicity mechanisms, and with our analysis, it is possible to formulate mechanism-based hypotheses on the cytotoxic properties of the tested chemicals.

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