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Toxicological Sciences

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This issue of Toxicological Sciences features several exciting changes: a redesigned cover, revised category subheadings, and this "Look Inside ToxSci" feature. Together with my esteemed colleagues in the field of green chemistry, we have outlined some exciting opportunities for the field of toxicology in the editorial on green chemistry and toxicology. There are insightful articles on the regulatory challenges regarding mixtures that are being addressed by the European Union and on risk assessment of carbon nanotubes. In the past, we have highlighted a single article from each issue. It has become increasingly difficult to select just one article from the volume of high quality work, so beginning this month we will highlight multiple articles in each issue here in "Look Inside ToxSci." From solvents, pesticides, and nanoparticles to the microbiome, the highlighted articles span the breadth of our field. Of course, this issue contains something that will never change; our raison d'etre ...the best original research in the field of toxicology. —Gary W. Miller



Risk assessment and subsequent risk management of environmental contaminants can benefit from early collaboration among researchers, risk assessors, and risk managers. The benefits of collaboration in research planning are particularly evident in light of (1) increasing calls to expand upon the risk assessment paradigm to include a greater focus on problem formulation and consideration of potential tradeoffs between risk management options, and (2) decreasing research budgets. Strategically connecting research planning to future decision making may be most critical in areas of emerging science for which data are often insufficient to clearly direct targeted research to support future risk assessment and management efforts. This article illustrates an application of the comprehensive environmental assessment approach to inform research planning for future risk assessment and management of one emerging material, multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs). High-priority research areas identified for MWCNTs in flame-retardant coatings applied to upholstery textiles included the following: release across the product life cycle; environmental transport, transformation and fate in air, wastewater and sediment; exposure in human occupational and consumer groups; kinetics in the human body; impacts on human health and aquatic populations; and impacts on economic, social, and environmental resources. This article focuses on specific research questions related to human health and how these may connect to future risk assessments and risk management efforts. Such connections will support more effective collaborations across the scientific community and may inform the prioritization of research funding opportunities for emerging materials like MWCNTs.


The chicken egg genotoxicity assay (CEGA), which utilizes the liver of an intact and aseptic embryo-fetal test organism, was evaluated using four activation-dependent DNA-reactive carcinogens and four structurally related less potent carcinogens or non-carcinogens. In the assay, three daily doses of test substances were administered to eggs containing 9–11-day-old fetuses and the fetal livers were assessed for two endpoints, DNA breaks using the alkaline single cell gel electrophoresis (comet) assay and DNA adducts using the 32P-nucleotide postlabeling (NPL) assay. The effects of four carcinogens of different structures requiring distinct pathways of bioactivation, i.e., 2-acetylaminofluorene (AAF), aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P), and diethylnitrosamine (DEN), were compared with structurally related non-carcinogens fluorene (FLU) and benzo[e]pyrene (B[e]P) or weak carcinogens, aflatoxin B2 (AFB2) and N-nitrosodiethanolamine (NDELA). The four carcinogens all produced DNA breaks at microgram or low milligram total doses, whereas less potent carcinogens and non-carcinogens yielded borderline or negative results, respectively, at higher doses. AAF and B[a]P produced DNA adducts, whereas none was found with the related comparators FLU or B[e]P, consistent with comet results. DEN and NDELA were also negative for adducts, as expected in the case of DEN for an alkylating agent in the standard NPL assay. Also, AFB1 and AFB2 were negative in NPL, as expected, due to the nature of ring opened aflatoxin adducts, which are resistant to enzymatic digestion. Thus, the CEGA, using comet and NPL, is capable of detection of the genotoxicity of diverse DNA-reactive carcinogens, while not yielding false positives for non-carcinogens.


Although extrinsic factors, such as nutritional status, and some intrinsic genetic factors may modify susceptibility to developmental lead (Pb) poisoning, no studies have specifically examined the influence of genetic background on outcomes from Pb exposure. In this study, we used gene microarray profiling to identify Pb-responsive genes in rats of different genetic backgrounds, including inbred (Fischer 344 (F344)) and outbred (Long Evans (LE), Sprague Dawley (SD)) strains, to investigate the role that genetic variation may play in influencing outcomes from developmental Pb exposure. Male and female animals received either perinatal (gestation through lactation) or postnatal (birth through weaning) exposure to Pb in food (0, 250, or 750 ppm). RNA was extracted from the hippocampus at day 55 and hybridized to Affymetrix Rat Gene 1.0 ST Arrays. There were significant strain-specific effects of Pb on the hippocampal transcriptome with 978 transcripts differentially expressed in LE rats across all experimental groups, 269 transcripts differentially expressed in F344 rats, and only 179 transcripts differentially expressed in SD rats. These results were not due to strain-related differences in brain accumulation of Pb. Further, no genes were consistently differentially regulated in all experimental conditions. There was no set of "Pb toxicity" genes that are a molecular signature for Pb neurotoxicity that transcended sex, exposure condition, and strain. These results demonstrate the influence that strain and genetic background play in modifying the brain's response to developmental Pb exposure and may have relevance for better understanding the molecular underpinnings of the lack of a neurobehavioral signature in childhood Pb poisoning.


2,4-dinitrotoluene (2,4-DNT) is a nitroaromatic used in industrial dyes and explosives manufacturing processes that is found as a contaminant in the environment. Previous studies have implicated antagonism of PPARα signaling as a principal process affected by 2,4-DNT. Here, we test the hypothesis that 2,4-DNT-induced perturbations in PPARα signaling and resultant downstream deficits in energy metabolism, especially from lipids, cause organism-level impacts on exercise endurance. PPAR nuclear activation bioassays demonstrated inhibition of PPARα signaling by 2,4-DNT whereas PPAR signaling increased. PPARα (-/-) and wild-type (WT) female mice were exposed for 14 days to vehicle or 2,4-DNT (134 mg/kg/day) and performed a forced swim to exhaustion 1 day after the last dose. 2,4-DNT significantly decreased body weights and swim times in WTs, but effects were significantly mitigated in PPARα (-/-) mice. 2,4-DNT decreased transcript expression for genes downstream in the PPARα signaling pathway, principally genes involved in fatty acid transport. Results indicate that PPAR signaling increased resulting in enhanced cycling of lipid and carbohydrate substrates into glycolytic/gluconeogenic pathways favoring energy production versus storage in 2,4-DNT-exposed WT and PPARα (-/-) mice. PPARα (-/-) mice appear to have compensated for the loss of PPARα by shifting energy metabolism to PPARα-independent pathways resulting in lower sensitivity to 2,4-DNT when compared with WT mice. Our results validate 2,4-DNT-induced perturbation of PPARα signaling as the molecular initiating event for impaired energy metabolism, weight loss, and decreased exercise performance.


Exposure to the anticonvulsant drug valproic acid (VPA) is associated with an increased risk of congenital malformations. Although the mechanisms contributing to its teratogenicity are poorly understood, VPA has been shown to induce DNA double strand breaks (DSB) and to increase homologous recombination in vitro. The objective of the present study was to determine whether in utero exposure to VPA alters the frequency of intrachromosomal recombination and the expression of several genes involved in DSB repair in pKZ1 mouse embryos. Pregnant pKZ1 transgenic mice (GD 9.0) were administered VPA (500 mg/kg s.c.) and embryos were extracted and microdissected into the head, heart, and trunk regions 1, 3, 6, and 24 h after injection. Quantitative PCR was used to measure the tissue-specific expression of lacZ, a surrogate measure of recombination, Xrcc4, Rad51, Brca1, and Brca2, with Western blotting used to quantify Rad51, cleaved caspase-3 and cleaved-PARP protein. Increased recombination was only observed in the embryonic head following 6-h VPA exposure. VPA had no effect on Xrcc4 expression. Rad51, Brca1, and Brca2 expression rapidly decreased in head and trunk tissues after 1-h VPA exposure, followed by a subsequent increase in all tissues, although it was generally attenuated in the head and not due to differences in endogenous levels. Cleaved caspase-3 and cleaved-PARP expression was increased in all tissues 3 h following VPA exposure. This study indicates that the tissue-specific expression of several genes involved in DSB repair is altered following exposure to VPA and may be contributing to increased apoptosis.


Hyperoxia contributes to acute lung injury in diseases such as acute respiratory distress syndrome in adults and bronchopulmonary dysplasia in premature infants. Cytochrome P450 (CYP)1A1 has been shown to modulate hyperoxic lung injury. The mechanistic role(s) of CYP1A1 in hyperoxic lung injury in vivo is not known. In this investigation, we hypothesized that Cyp1a1(–/–) mice would be more susceptible to hyperoxic lung injury than wild-type (WT) mice, and that the protective role of CYP1A1 is in part due to CYP1A1-mediated decrease in the levels of reactive oxygen species-mediated lipid hydroperoxides, e.g., F2-isoprostanes/isofurans, leading to attenuation of oxidative damage. Eight- to ten-week-old male WT (C57BL/6J) or Cyp1a1(–/–) mice were exposed to hyperoxia (>95% O2) or room air for 24–72 h. The Cyp1a1(–/–) mice were more susceptible to oxygen-mediated lung damage and inflammation than WT mice, as evidenced by increased lung weight/body weight ratio, lung injury, neutrophil infiltration, and augmented expression of IL-6. Hyperoxia for 24–48 h induced CYP1A expression at the mRNA, protein, and enzyme levels in liver and lung of WT mice. Pulmonary F2-isoprostane and isofuran levels were elevated in WT mice after hyperoxia for 24 h. On the other hand, Cyp1a1(–/–) mice showed higher levels after 48–72 h of hyperoxia exposure compared to WT mice. Our results support the hypothesis that CYP1A1 protects against hyperoxic lung injury by decreasing oxidative stress. Future research could lead to the development of novel strategies for prevention and/or treatment of acute lung injury.


In the present study, a previously established integrated testing strategy (ITS) for in vitro estrogenicity testing was extended with additional in vitro assays in order to broaden its sensitivity to different modes of action resulting in apparent estrogenicity, i.e., other than estrogen receptor (ER) binding. To this end, an extra set of 10 estrogenic compounds with modes of action in part different from ER binding, were tested in the previously defined ITS, consisting of a yeast estrogen reporter gene assay, an U2OS ERα CALUX reporter gene assay and a cell-free coregulator binding assay. Two androgen reporter gene assays and the enhanced H295R steroidogenesis assay were added to that previous defined ITS. These assays had added value, as several estrogenic model compounds also elicited clear and potent antiandrogenic properties and in addition also showed effects on steroidogenesis that might potentiate their apparent estrogenic effects in vivo. Adding these assays, examining mechanisms of action for estrogenicity apart from ERα binding, gives a more complete and comprehensive assessment of the ability of test compounds to interfere with endocrine signaling. It was concluded that the extended ITS will go beyond in vivo estrogenicity testing by the uterotrophic assay, thereby contributing to the 3R-principles.


Atrazine (ATR) is one of the most frequently detected pesticides in the U.S. water supply. This study aimed to investigate neurobehavioral and neurochemical effects of ATR in C57BL/6 mouse offspring and dams exposed to a relatively low (3 mg/l, estimated intake 1.4 mg/kg/day) concentration of ATR via the drinking water (DW) from gestational day 6 to postnatal day (PND) 23. Behavioral tests included open field, pole, grip strength, novel object recognition (NOR), forced swim, and marble burying tests. Maternal weight gain and offspring (PND21, 35, and 70) body or brain weights were not affected by ATR. However, ATR-treated dams exhibited decreased NOR performance and a trend toward hyperactivity. Juvenile offspring (PND35) from ATR-exposed dams were hyperactive (both sexes), spent less time swimming (males), and buried more marbles (females). In adult offspring (PND70), the only behavioral change was a sex-specific (females) decreased NOR performance by ATR. Neurochemically, a trend toward increased striatal dopamine (DA) in dams and a significant increase in juvenile offspring (both sexes) was observed. Additionally, ATR exposure decreased perirhinal cortex serotonin in the adult female offspring. These results suggest that perinatal DW exposure to ATR targets the nigrostriatal DA pathway in dams and, especially, juvenile offspring, alters dams’ cognitive performance, induces sex-selective changes involving motor and emotional functions in juvenile offspring, and decreases cognitive ability of adult female offspring, with the latter possibly associated with altered perirhinal cortex serotonin homeostasis. Overall, ATR exposure during gestation and lactation may cause adverse nervous system effects to both offspring and dams.


Humans are exposed to distinct structural classes of insecticides with different neurotoxic modes of action. Because calcium homeostasis is essential for proper neuronal function and development, we investigated the effects of insecticides from different classes (pyrethroid: (α-)cypermethrin; organophosphate: chlorpyrifos; organochlorine: endosulfan; neonicotinoid: imidacloprid) and mixtures thereof on the intracellular calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i). Effects of acute (20 min) exposure to (mixtures of) insecticides on basal and depolarization-evoked [Ca2+]i were studied in vitro with Fura-2-loaded PC12 cells and high resolution single-cell fluorescence microscopy. The data demonstrate that cypermethrin, α-cypermethrin, endosulfan, and chlorpyrifos concentration-dependently decreased depolarization-evoked [Ca2+]i, with 50% (IC50) at 78nM, 239nM, 250nM, and 899nM, respectively. Additionally, acute exposure to chlorpyrifos or endosulfan (10μM) induced a modest increase in basal [Ca2+]i, amounting to 68 ± 8nM and 53 ± 8nM, respectively. Imidacloprid did not disturb basal or depolarization-evoked [Ca2+]i at 10μM. Following exposure to binary mixtures, effects on depolarization-evoked [Ca2+]i were within the expected effect additivity range, whereas the effect of the tertiary mixture was less than this expected additivity effect range. These results demonstrate that different types of insecticides inhibit depolarization-evoked [Ca2+]i in PC12 cells by inhibiting voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) in vitro at concentrations comparable with human occupational exposure levels. Moreover, the effective concentrations in this study are below those for earlier described modes of action. Because inhibition of VGCCs appears to be a common and potentially additive mode of action of several classes of insecticides, this target should be considered in neurotoxicity risk assessment studies.


The transcription factor Nrf2 (Nfe2l2 nuclear factor, erythroid 2-like 2) regulates gene expression directly, controlling pharmacological and toxicological responses. These processes may also be influenced by the structure of the hepatic vasculature, which distributes blood flow through compartmentalized microenvironments to maintain organismal stability. Castings of the hepatic portal vasculature of albino C57BL/6J but not ICR Nrf2–/– mice revealed a congenital intrahepatic shunt that was present in two thirds of Nrf2-disrupted mice. This shunt directly connected the portal vein to the inferior vena cava and displayed characteristics of a patent ductus venosus. Immunohistochemistry revealed that Nrf2–/– mice with an intrahepatic shunt manifest changes to hepatic oxygen and protein expression gradients when compared with wild-type (WT) and non-shunted Nrf2–/– mice. Centrilobular hypoxia found in WT and Nrf2–/– mice without shunts was reduced in Nrf2–/– livers with a shunt. Hepatic protein expression of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (Pepck), normally confined to the periportal zone, exhibited both periportal and centrilobular zonal expression in livers from Nrf2–/– mice with an intrahepatic shunt. Centrilobular expression of Cytochrome P450 2E1 (Cyp2e1) was diminished in shunted Nrf2–/– livers compared with WT and Nrf2–/– livers without shunts. The intrahepatic shunt in Nrf2–/– mice was further found to diminish acetaminophen hepatoxicity compared with WT and Nrf2–/– non-shunted mice following a 6 h challenge with 250 mg/kg acetaminophen. The presence of an intrahepatic shunt influences several physiological and pathophysiological properties of Nrf2–/– mice through changes in blood flow, hepatic oxygenation, and protein expression that extent beyond loss of canonical transactivation of Nrf2 target genes.


The β-keto amphetamine (cathinone, β-KA) designer drugs such as mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone, 4-MMC) show a large degree of structural similarity to amphetamines like methamphetamine (METH). However, little is currently known about whether these substances also share the potential neurotoxic properties of their non-keto amphetamine counterparts, or what mechanisms could be involved. Here, we evaluate the cytotoxicity of β-KAs in SH-SY5Y cells using lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) assays, assess the redox potential of a range of β-KAs and non-keto amphetamines using the sensitive redox indicator 2-(4-Iodophenyl)-3-(4-nitrophenyl)-5-(2,4-disulfophenyl)-2H-tetrazolium (WST-1), and explore the effect of 4-MMC on the formation of protein adducts using ultra-high performance liquid chromatography/high-resolution time-of-flight mass spectrometry (UHPLC-HR-TOFMS) and on the mitochondrial respiratory chain using high-resolution respirometry. We show that treatment with β-KAs increases LDH release. Further, we demonstrate that even under physiological pH, β-KAs are effective and selective—as compared with their non-keto analogues—reductants in the presence of electron acceptors. Increased pH (range 7.6–8.0) greatly enhanced the reactivity up to sixfold. We found no evidence of protein adduct formation, suggesting the reactivity is due to direct electron transfer by the β-KAs. Finally, we show that 4-MMC and METH produce dissimilar effects on the respiratory chain. Our results indicate that β-KAs such as 4-MMC possess cytotoxic properties in vitro. Furthermore, in the presence of an electron-accepting redox partner, the ketone moiety of β-KAs is vital for pH-dependent redox reactivity. Further work is needed to establish the importance of β-KA redox properties and its potential toxicological importance in vivo.


The unique physical and chemical properties of nanomaterials have led to their increased use in many industrial applications, including as a paint additive. For example, titanium dioxide (TiO2) engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) have well-established anti-UV, self-cleaning, and air purification effects. Silver (Ag) ENPs are renowned for their anti-microbial capabilities and silicon dioxide (SiO2) ENPs are used as fire retardants and anti-scratch coatings. In this study, the toxic effects and biodistribution of three pristine ENPs (TiO2, Ag, and SiO2), three aged paints containing ENPs (TiO2, Ag, and SiO2) along with control paints without ENPs were compared. BALB/c mice were oropharyngeally aspirated with ENPs or paint particles (20 μg/aspiration) once a week for 5 weeks and sacrificed either 2 or 28 days post final aspiration treatment. A bronchoalveolar lavage was performed and systemic blood toxicity was evaluated to ascertain cell counts, induction of inflammatory cytokines, and key blood parameters. In addition, the lung, liver, kidney, spleen, and heart were harvested and metal concentrations were determined. Exposure to pristine ENPs caused subtle effects in the lungs and negligible alterations in the blood. The most pronounced toxic effects were observed after Ag ENPs exposure; an increased neutrophil count and a twofold increase in pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion (keratinocyte chemoattractant (KC) and interleukin-1ß (IL-1ß)) were identified. The paint containing TiO2 ENPs did not modify macrophage and neutrophil counts, but mildly induced KC and IL-1ß. The paints containing Ag or SiO2 did not show significant toxicity. Biodistribution experiments showed distribution of Ag and Si outside the lung after aspiration to respectively pristine Ag or SiO2 ENPs. In conclusion, we demonstrated that even though direct exposure to ENPs induced some toxic effects, once they were embedded in a complex paint matrix little to no adverse toxicological effects were identified.


Exposure of zebrafish embryos to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) activates the zebrafish aryl hydrocarbon receptor 2 (AHR) to produce developmental and cardiovascular toxicity. AHR is found in the heart; however, AHR activation by TCDD is not confined to the heart and occurs throughout the organism. In order to understand the cause of cardiotoxicity, we constructed a constitutively active AHR (caAHR) based on the zebrafish AHR2 and expressed it specifically in cardiomyocytes. We show that AHR activation within the cardiomyocytes can account for the heart failure induced by TCDD. Expression of the caAHR within the heart produced cardiac malformations, loss of circulation, and pericardial edema. The heart-specific activation of AHR reproduced several other well-characterized endpoints of TCDD toxicity outside of the cardiovascular system, including defects in swim bladder and craniofacial development. This work identifies a single cellular site of TCDD action, the myocardial cell, that can account for the severe cardiovascular collapse observed following early life stage exposure to TCDD, and contributes to other forms of toxicity.


Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) through Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) and Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) activation induce systemic inflammation where oxidative damage plays a key role in multiple organ failure. Because of the neutralization of LPS toxicity by sialic acid (SA), we determined its effect and mechanisms on repurified LPS (rLPS)-evoked acute renal failure. We assessed the effect of intravenous SA (10 mg/kg body weight) on rLPS-induced renal injury in female Wistar rats by evaluating blood and kidney reactive oxygen species (ROS) responses, renal and systemic hemodynamics, renal function, histopathology, and molecular mechanisms. SA can interact with rLPS through a high binding affinity. rLPS dose- and time-dependently reduced arterial blood pressure, renal microcirculation and blood flow, and increased vascular resistance in the rats. rLPS enhanced monocyte/macrophage (ED-1) infiltration and ROS production and impaired kidneys by triggering p-IRE1α/p-JNK/CHOP/GRP78/ATF4-mediated endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, Bax/PARP-mediated apoptosis, Beclin-1/Atg5-Atg12/LC3-II-mediated autophagy, and caspase 1/IL-1β-mediated pyroptosis in the kidneys. SA treatment at 30 min, but not 60 min after rLPS stimulation, gp91 siRNA and protein kinase C-α (PKC) inhibitor efficiently rescued rLPS-induced acute renal failure via inhibition of TLR4/PKC/NADPH oxidase gp91-mediated ER stress, apoptosis, autophagy and pyroptosis in renal proximal tubular cells, and rat kidneys. In response to rLPS or IFN, the enhanced Atg5, FADD, LC3-II, and PARP expression can be inhibited by Atg5 siRNA. Albumin (10 mg/kg body weight) did not rescue rLPS-induced injury. In conclusion, early treatment (within 30 min) of SA attenuates rLPS-induced renal failure via the reduction in LPS toxicity and subsequently inhibiting rLPS-activated TLR4/PKC/gp91/ER stress/apoptosis/autophagy/pyroptosis signaling.


Prenatal arsenic exposure has been associated with reduced thymic index and increased morbidity in infants, indicating arsenic-related impaired immune function. We aimed at elucidating potential effects of pre- and postnatal arsenic exposure on cell-mediated immune function in pre-school aged children. Children born in a prospective mother-child cohort in rural Bangladesh were followed up at 4.5 years of age (n = 577). Arsenic exposure was assessed by concentrations of arsenic metabolites (U-As) in child urine and maternal urine during pregnancy, using high-performance liquid chromatography online with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. For assessment of delayed type hypersensitivity response, an intradermal injection of purified protein derivative (PPD) was given to Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccinated children. The diameter (mm) of induration was measured after 48–72 h. Plasma concentrations of 27 cytokines were analyzed by a multiplex cytokine assay. Children's concurrent, but not prenatal, arsenic exposure was associated with a weaker response to the injected PPD. The risk ratio (RR) of not responding to PPD (induration <5 mm) was 1.37 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.07, 1.74) in children in the highest quartile of U-As (range 126–1228 μg/l), compared with the lowest (range 12–34 μg/l). The p for trend across the quartiles was 0.003. The association was stronger in undernourished children. Children's U-As in tertiles was inversely associated with two out of 27 cytokines only, i.e., IL-2 and TNF-α, both Th1 cytokines (in the highest tertile, regression coefficients (95% CI): –1.57 (–2.56, –0.57) and –4.53 (–8.62, –0.42), respectively), but not with Th2 cytokines. These associations were particularly strong in children with recent infections. In conclusion, elevated childhood arsenic exposure appeared to reduce cell-mediated immunity, possibly linked to reduced concentrations of Th1 cytokines.


In utero exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) causes ventral prostate agenesis in C57BL/6J mice by preventing ventral prostatic budding in the embryonic urogenital sinus (UGS). TCDD (5 μg/kg, po) administered to pregnant dams on embryonic day 15.5 (E15.5) activates the aryl hydrocarbon receptor in the UGS mesenchyme, disrupting the mesenchymally derived paracrine signaling that instructs epithelial prostatic budding. How TCDD alters the mesenchymal milieu is not well understood. We previously showed that TCDD disrupts some aspects of Wnt signaling in UGSs grown in vitro. Here we provide the first comprehensive, in vivo characterization of Wnt signaling in male E16.5 UGSs during normal development, and after in utero TCDD exposure. Vehicle- and TCDD-exposed UGSs were probed by in situ hybridization to assess relative abundance and localization of RNA from 46 genes that regulate Wnt signaling. TCDD altered the staining pattern of five genes, increasing staining for Wnt10a and Wnt16 and decreasing staining for Ror2, Rspo2, and Wif1. We also used immunohistochemistry to show, for the first time, activation of β-catenin (CTNNB1) signaling in ventral basal epithelium of control UGSs at E16.5. This onset of CTNNB1 signaling occurred immediately prior to the initiation of ventral prostatic budding and is characterized by a pronounced increase in CTNNB1 nuclear localization and subsequent expression of the CTNNB1 signaling target gene, Lef1. In utero TCDD exposure prevented the onset of CTNNB1 signaling and LEF1 expression in the ventral basal epithelium, thereby elucidating a likely mechanism by which TCDD contributes to failed prostatic budding in the ventral UGS.


Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) pose a significant threat to human health, society, and the environment. Many EDCs elicit their toxic effects through nuclear hormone receptors, like the estrogen receptor α (ERα). In silico models can be used to prioritize chemicals for toxicological evaluation to reduce the amount of costly pharmacological testing and enable early alerts for newly designed compounds. However, many of the current computational models are overly dependent on the chemistry of known modulators and perform poorly for novel chemical scaffolds. Herein we describe the development of computational, three-dimensional multi-conformational pocket-field docking, and chemical-field docking models for the identification of novel EDCs that act via the ligand-binding domain of ERα. These models were highly accurate in the retrospective task of distinguishing known high-affinity ERα modulators from inactive or decoy molecules, with minimal training. To illustrate the utility of the models in prospective in silico compound screening, we screened a database of over 6000 environmental chemicals and evaluated the 24 top-ranked hits in an ERα transcriptional activation assay and a differential scanning fluorimetry-based ERα binding assay. Promisingly, six chemicals displayed ERα agonist activity (32nM–3.98μM) and two chemicals had moderately stabilizing effects on ERα. Two newly identified active compounds were chemically related β-adrenergic receptor (βAR) agonists, dobutamine, and ractopamine (a feed additive that promotes leanness in cattle and poultry), which are the first βAR agonists identified as activators of ERα-mediated gene transcription. This approach can be applied to other receptors implicated in endocrine disruption.


In vitro exposures to air pollutants could, in theory, facilitate a rapid and detailed assessment of molecular mechanisms of toxicity. However, it is difficult to ensure that the dose of a gaseous pollutant to cells in tissue culture is similar to that of the same cells during in vivo exposure of a living person. The goal of the present study was to compare the dose and effect of O3 in airway cells of humans exposed in vivo to that of human cells exposed in vitro. Ten subjects breathed labeled O3 (18O3, 0.3 ppm, 2 h) while exercising intermittently. Bronchial brush biopsies and lung lavage fluids were collected 1 h post exposure for in vivo data whereas in vitro data were obtained from primary cultures of human bronchial epithelial cells exposed to 0.25–1.0 ppm 18O3 for 2 h. The O3 dose to the cells was defined as the level of 18O incorporation and the O3 effect as the fold increase in expression of inflammatory marker genes (IL-8 and COX-2). Dose and effect in cells removed from in vivo exposed subjects were lower than in cells exposed to the same 18O3 concentration in vitro suggesting upper airway O3 scrubbing in vivo. Cells collected by lavage as well as previous studies in monkeys show that cells deeper in the lung receive a higher O3 dose than cells in the bronchus. We conclude that the methods used herein show promise for replicating and comparing the in vivo dose and effect of O3 in an in vitro system.


Ischemia/reperfusion (I/R)-induced acute kidney injury (AKI) is evoked by diverse pathophysiological conditions and/or surgical procedures. Here, we evaluated the nephropreventive effect of sulfotransferase (SULT) inhibitors, quercetin, and resveratrol, which hamper hepatic indoxyl sulfate (IS) production. I/R of the kidney caused severe renal injury with marked accumulation of serum and renal IS and urinary excretion of kidney injury molecule-1. Oral administration of AST-120 resulted in a significant restoration of kidney injury, suggesting that uremic toxins, which can be suppressed or adsorbed by AST-120 in the intestine, contribute to the progression or development of I/R-induced AKI. Oral administration of resveratrol or quercetin, SULT inhibitors, suppressed IS accumulation, accompanied by significant amelioration of renal dysfunction. The expression of nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) in the renal nuclear fractions was markedly elevated by renal I/R, but suppressed by treatment with SULT inhibitors. IS is primarily taken up by HK-2 cells derived from human proximal tubular cells via organic anion transporters, which then evokes activation of Nrf2, most likely due to intracellular oxidative stress. Renal basolateral organic anion transporters OAT1 and OAT3, which mediate renal tubular uptake of IS in basolateral membrane, were markedly downregulated by renal I/R, but restored by SULT inhibitors. Our results suggest that renal accumulation of IS in ischemic AKI induces oxidative stress and downregulation of organic anion transporters resulting in kidney damage, which could be restored to some extent by inhibiting hepatic SULT activity as a nephropreventive target.


The risk posed by complex chemical mixtures in the environment to wildlife and humans is increasingly debated, but has been rarely tested under environmentally relevant scenarios. To address this issue, two mixtures of 14 or 19 substances of concern (pesticides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, a surfactant, and a plasticizer), each present at its safety limit concentration imposed by the European legislation, were prepared and tested for their toxic effects. The effects of the mixtures were assessed in 35 bioassays, based on 11 organisms representing different trophic levels. A consortium of 16 laboratories was involved in performing the bioassays. The mixtures elicited quantifiable toxic effects on some of the test systems employed, including i) changes in marine microbial composition, ii) microalgae toxicity, iii) immobilization in the crustacean Daphnia magna, iv) fish embryo toxicity, v) impaired frog embryo development, and vi) increased expression on oxidative stress-linked reporter genes. Estrogenic activity close to regulatory safety limit concentrations was uncovered by receptor-binding assays. The results highlight the need of precautionary actions on the assessment of chemical mixtures even in cases where individual toxicants are present at seemingly harmless concentrations.


French consumers are exposed to mixtures of pesticide residues in part through food consumption. As a xenosensor, the pregnane X receptor (hPXR) is activated by numerous pesticides, the combined effect of which is currently unknown. We examined the activation of hPXR by seven pesticide mixtures most likely found in the French diet and their individual components. The mixture's effect was estimated using the concentration addition (CA) model. PXR transactivation was measured by monitoring luciferase activity in hPXR/HepG2 cells and CYP3A4 expression in human hepatocytes. The three mixtures with the highest potency were evaluated using the CA model, at equimolar concentrations and at their relative proportion in the diet. The seven mixtures significantly activated hPXR and induced the expression of CYP3A4 in human hepatocytes. Of the 14 pesticides which constitute the three most active mixtures, four were found to be strong hPXR agonists, four medium, and six weak. Depending on the mixture and pesticide proportions, additive, greater than additive or less than additive effects between compounds were demonstrated. Predictions of the combined effects were obtained with both real-life and equimolar proportions at low concentrations. Pesticides act mostly additively to activate hPXR, when present in a mixture. Modulation of hPXR activation and its target genes induction may represent a risk factor contributing to exacerbate the physiological response of the hPXR signaling pathways and to explain some adverse effects in humans.


Mechanisms involved in drug-induced cholestasis in humans remain poorly understood. Although cyclosporine A (CsA) and tacrolimus (FK506) share similar immunosuppressive properties, only CsA is known to cause dose-dependent cholestasis. Here, we have investigated the mechanisms implicated in early cholestatic effects of CsA using the differentiated human HepaRG cell line. Inhibition of efflux and uptake of taurocholate was evidenced as early as 15 min and 1 h respectively after addition of 10μM CsA; it peaked at around 2 h and was reversible. These early effects were associated with generation of oxidative stress and deregulation of cPKC pathway. At higher CsA concentrations (≥50μM) alterations of efflux and uptake activities were enhanced and became irreversible, pericanalicular F-actin microfilaments were disorganized and bile canaliculi were constricted. These changes were associated with induction of endoplasmic reticulum stress that preceded generation of oxidative stress. Concentration-dependent changes were observed on total bile acid disposition, which were characterized by an increase and a decrease in culture medium and cells, respectively, after a 24-h treatment with CsA. Accordingly, genes encoding hepatobiliary transporters and bile acid synthesis enzymes were differently deregulated depending on CsA concentration. By contrast, FK506 induced limited effects only at 25–50μM and did not alter bile canaliculi. Our data demonstrate involvement of different concentration-dependent mechanisms in CsA-induced cholestasis and point out a critical role of endoplasmic reticulum stress in the occurrence of the major cholestatic features.


Cisplatin is one of the most potent and widely used antitumor drugs. However, the use of cisplatin is limited by its side effect, nephrotoxicity. Evidence has shown an increased incidence and severity of acute kidney injury (AKI) in the elderly. Previous studies from our laboratory demonstrate a decrease in α(E)-catenin expression in aged kidney. In this study, we investigated whether the loss of α(E)-catenin may increase cisplatin nephrotoxicity. To study the effects of reduced α(E)-catenin, a cell line with stable knockdown of α(E)-catenin (C2 cells) was used; NT3 is nontargeted control. C2 cells exhibited a significant loss of viability as determined by MTT assay compared with NT3 cells after cisplatin challenge, but showed no difference in lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) leakage. Increased caspase 3/7 activation and PARP cleavage was observed in C2 cells after cisplatin treatment. Z-VAD, a pan-caspase inhibitor, abolished the difference in susceptibility between NT3 and C2 cells. Interestingly, the expression of α(E)-catenin was further decreased after cisplatin treatment. Furthermore, in vivo data demonstrated a significant increase in serum creatinine at 72 h after a single dose of cisplatin in 24-month-old rats, but not in 4-month-old rats. Increased expression of KIM-1 and in situ apoptosis were also detected in aged kidney after cisplatin challenge. Taken together, these data suggest that loss of α(E)-catenin increases apoptosis of tubular epithelial cells which may contribute to the increased nephrotoxicity induced by cisplatin in aged kidney.


Acetaminophen (APAP) pretreatment with a hepatotoxic dose (400 mg/kg) in mice results in resistance to a second, higher dose (600 mg/kg) of APAP (APAP autoprotection). Recent microarray work by our group showed a drastic induction of liver flavin containing monooxygenase-3 (Fmo3) mRNA expression in our mouse model of APAP autoprotection. The role of liver Fmo3, which detoxifies xenobiotics, in APAP autoprotection is unknown. The purpose of this study was to characterize the gene regulation and protein expression of liver Fmo3 during APAP hepatotoxicity. The functional consequences of Fmo3 induction were also investigated. Plasma and livers were collected from male C57BL/6J mice over a period of 72 h following a single dose of APAP (400 mg/kg) to measure Fmo3 mRNA and protein expression. Although Fmo3 mRNA levels increased significantly following APAP treatment, protein expression changed marginally. In contrast, both Fmo3 mRNA and protein expression were significantly higher in APAP autoprotected livers. Unlike male C57BL/6J mice, female mice have ~80-times higher constitutive Fmo3 mRNA levels and are highly resistant to APAP hepatotoxicity. Coadministration of APAP with the FMO inhibitor methimazole rendered female mice susceptible to APAP hepatotoxicity, with no changes in susceptibility detected in male mice. Furthermore, a human hepatocyte cell line (HC-04) clone over-expressing human FMO3 showed enhanced resistance to APAP cytotoxicity. Taken together, these findings establish for the first time induction of Fmo3 protein expression and function by xenobiotic treatment. Our results also indicate that Fmo3 expression and function plays a role in protecting the liver from APAP-induced toxicity. Although the mechanism(s) of this protection remains to be elucidated, this work describes a novel protective function for this enzyme.


Men are at risk of becoming completely infertile due to innumerable environmental chemicals and pollutants. These xenobiotics, hence, should be tested for their potential adverse effects on male fertility. However, the testing load, a monumental challenge for employing conventional animal models, compels the pursuit of alternative models. Towards this direction, we show here that Drosophila melanogaster, an invertebrate, with its well characterized/conserved male reproductive processes/proteome, recapitulates male reproductive toxicity phenotypes observed in mammals when exposed to a known reproductive toxicant, dibutyl phthalate (DBP). Analogous to mammals, exposure to DBP reduced fertility, sperm counts, seminal proteins, increased oxidative modification/damage in reproductive tract proteins and altered the activity of a hormone receptor (estrogen related receptor) in Drosophila males. In addition, we show here that DBP is metabolized to monobutyl phthalate (MBP) in exposed Drosophila males and that MBP is more toxic than DBP, as observed in higher organisms. These findings suggest Drosophila as a potential alternative to traditional animal models for the prescreening of chemicals for their reproductive adversities and also to gain mechanistic insights into chemical-mediated endocrine disruption and male infertility.


Human hepatic UGT2B15 developmental expression changes may alter the metabolism of important drugs and toxicants such as bisphenol A (BPA). Previously, UGT2B15 ontogeny knowledge consisted of transcript data, a dubious surrogate for protein expression. Herein, UGT2B15 protein content was determined in human hepatic microsomes (n = 236, 8 weeks gestation to 18 years). The impact of a common, functional single nucleotide polymorphism (g.253G>T), present in UGT2B15*2 and *5 alleles, was also tested. UGT2B15 expression began during late fetal life, at about 18% of mature values (medians = 48, 267 pmoles/mg of microsomal protein, respectively; p < 0.001). UGT2B15 neonatal (n = 39) and late fetal (≥28 weeks, n = 10) content was similar, but lower than that of infants between 3 and 15 weeks age (n = 46; medians = 38, 48, 404 pmoles/mg microsomal protein, respectively; p < 0.001). Values for the latter group were higher compared with the remaining age group (15 weeks to 18 years; n = 82, p < 0.001). UGT2B15 expression varied 31-fold across the entire sample, and within groups, ranged from 4- to 27-fold. Among postnatal samples, age group, the presence of g.253T and male gender were each significantly associated with greater UGT2B15 expression (p < 0.001, <0.01, and <0.05, respectively; stepwise linear regression). In summary, hepatic UGT2B15 protein onset begins in late gestation; however, the greatest rate of change occurs during the first few weeks after birth. We speculate that the fetus and neonate may have lower clearance of some UGT2B15 substrates, such as BPA, compared with older individuals.


Epidemiological studies have demonstrated extensive human exposure to the monocyclic aromatic amines, particularly to 3,5-dimethylaniline, and found an association between exposure to these compounds and risk for bladder cancer. Little is known about molecular mechanisms that might lead to the observed risk. We previously suggested that the hydroxylated 3,5-dimethylaniline metabolite, 3,5-dimethylaminophenol (3,5-DMAP), played a central role in effecting genetic change through the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in a redox cycle with 3,5-dimethylquinoneimine. Experiments here characterize ROS generation by 3,5-DMAP exposure in nucleotide repair-proficient and -deficient Chinese hamster ovary cells as a function of time. Besides, various cellular responses discussed herein indicate that ROS production is the principal cause of cytotoxicity. Fluorescence microscopy of cells exposed to 3,5-DMAP confirmed that ROS production occurs in the nuclear compartment, as suggested by a previous study demonstrating covalent linkage between 3,5-DMAP and histones. 3,5-DMAP was also compared with 3,5-dimethylhydroquinone to determine whether substitution of one of the phenolic hydroxyl groups by an amino group had a significant effect on some of the investigated parameters. The comparatively much longer duration of observable ROS produced by 3,5-DMAP (7 vs. 1 day) provides further evidence that 3,5-DMAP becomes embedded in the cellular matrix in a form capable of continued redox cycling. 3,5-DMAP also induced dose-dependent increase of H2O2 and ·OH, which were determined as the major free radicals contributing to the cytotoxicity and apoptosis mediated via caspase-3 activation. Overall, this study provides insight into the progression of alkylaniline-induced toxicity.


Gut microbiota represent an important bridge between environmental substances and host metabolism. Here we reported a comprehensive study of gut microbiota interaction with ochratoxin A (OTA), a major food-contaminating mycotoxin, using the combination of metagenomics and culture-based methods. Rats were given OTA (0, 70, or 210 μg/kg body weight) by gavage and fecal samples were collected at day 0 and day 28. Bacterial genomic DNA was extracted from the fecal samples and both 16S rRNA and shotgun sequencing (two main methods of metagenomics) were performed. The results indicated OTA treatment decreased the within-subject diversity of the gut microbiota, and the relative abundance of Lactobacillus increased considerably. Changes in functional genes of gut microbiota including signal transduction, carbohydrate transport, transposase, amino acid transport system, and mismatch repair were observed. To further understand the biological sense of increased Lactobacillus, Lactobacillus selective medium was used to isolate Lactobacillus species from fecal samples, and a strain with 99.8% 16S rRNA similarity with Lactobacillus plantarum strain PFK2 was obtained. Thin-layer chromatography showed that this strain could absorb but not degrade OTA, which was in agreement with the result in metagenomics that no genes related to OTA degradation increased. In conclusion, combination of metagenomics and culture-based methods can be a new strategy to study intestinal toxicity of toxins and find applicable bacterial strains for detoxification. When it comes to OTA, this kind of mycotoxin can cause compositional and functional changes of gut microbiota, and Lactobacillus are key genus to detoxify OTA in vivo.