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Toxicol Sci. 2019 Jun 1;169(2):553-566. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfz065.

The Power of Resolution: Contextualized Understanding of Biological Responses to Liver Injury Chemicals Using High-throughput Transcriptomics and Benchmark Concentration Modeling.

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*Biomolecular Screening Branch, Division of National Toxicology Program, National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences of National Institutes of Health, Durham, North Carolina 27709.
Sciome, LLC, Research Triangle Park, Durham, North Carolina 27709.
Division of Intramural Research, National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences of National Institutes of Health, Durham, North Carolina 27709.


Prediction of human response to chemical exposures is a major challenge in both pharmaceutical and toxicological research. Transcriptomics has been a powerful tool to explore chemical-biological interactions, however, limited throughput, high-costs, and complexity of transcriptomic interpretations have yielded numerous studies lacking sufficient experimental context for predictive application. To address these challenges, we have utilized a novel high-throughput transcriptomics (HTT) platform, TempO-Seq, to apply the interpretive power of concentration-response modeling with exposures to 24 reference compounds in both differentiated and non-differentiated human HepaRG cell cultures. Our goals were to (1) explore transcriptomic characteristics distinguishing liver injury compounds, (2) assess impacts of differentiation state of HepaRG cells on baseline and compound-induced responses (eg, metabolically-activated), and (3) identify and resolve reference biological-response pathways through benchmark concentration (BMC) modeling. Study data revealed the predictive utility of this approach to identify human liver injury compounds by their respective BMCs in relation to human internal exposure plasma concentrations, and effectively distinguished drug analogs with varied associations of human liver injury (eg, withdrawn therapeutics trovafloxacin and troglitazone). Impacts of cellular differentiation state (proliferated vs differentiated) were revealed on baseline drug metabolizing enzyme expression, hepatic receptor signaling, and responsiveness to metabolically-activated toxicants (eg, cyclophosphamide, benzo(a)pyrene, and aflatoxin B1). Finally, concentration-response modeling enabled efficient identification and resolution of plausibly-relevant biological-response pathways through their respective pathway-level BMCs. Taken together, these findings revealed HTT paired with differentiated in vitro liver models as an effective tool to model, explore, and interpret toxicological and pharmacological interactions.


HepaRG cells; S1500+; benchmark concentration analysis; geneset; high-throughput sequencing; liver injury; toxicogenomics

[Available on 2020-06-01]

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