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Inter-laboratory study of human in vitro toxicogenomics-based tests as alternative methods for evaluating chemical carcinogenicity: a bioinformatics perspective


The assessment of the carcinogenic potential of chemicals with alternative, human-based in vitro systems has become a major goal of toxicogenomics. The central read-out of these assays is the transcriptome, and while many studies exist that explored the gene expression responses of such systems, reports on robustness and reproducibility, when testing them independently in different laboratories, are still uncommon. Furthermore, there is limited knowledge about variability induced by the data analysis protocols. We have conducted an inter-laboratory study for testing chemical carcinogenicity evaluating two human in vitro assays: hepatoma-derived cells and hTERT-immortalized renal proximal tubule epithelial cells, representing liver and kidney as major target organs. Cellular systems were initially challenged with thirty compounds, genome-wide gene expression was measured with microarrays, and hazard classifiers were built from this training set. Subsequently, each system was independently established in three different laboratories, and gene expression measurements were conducted using anonymized compounds. Data analysis was performed independently by two separate groups applying different protocols for the assessment of inter-laboratory reproducibility and for the prediction of carcinogenic hazard. As a result, both workflows came to very similar conclusions with respect to (1) identification of experimental outliers, (2) overall assessment of robustness and inter-laboratory reproducibility and (3) re-classification of the unknown compounds to the respective toxicity classes. In summary, the developed bioinformatics workflows deliver accurate measures for inter-laboratory comparison studies, and the study can be used as guidance for validation of future carcinogenicity assays in order to implement testing of human in vitro alternatives to animal testing.

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We thank Anja Heymans and Michael David for technical assistance. This work was supported by the European Commission under its 6th Framework Programme with the Grant carcinoGENOMICS (LSHB-CT-2006-037712) and under its 7th Framework Programme with the Grant diXa (283775).

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Correspondence to R. Herwig.

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Conflict of interest

Hans Gmuender, Timo Wittenberger and Arndt Brandenburg are employees of GeneData AG, a company that provides bioinformatics service. Christophe Chesne is employee of Biopredic International, a company that provides human in vitro assays.

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R. Herwig, H. Gmuender, R. Corvi, M. Ryan, V. Rogiers and J. Kleinjans have contributed equally to this work. Except equally contributed authors, other authors are in alphabetical order.

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Suppl. Fig. 1

Human in vitro systems were challenged with three different coded compounds (IC10). Response data after 72-h exposure were compared with DMSO control experiments (triplicates). All experiments were independently performed in three different laboratories. After performance of microarray experiments (in a centralized laboratory), expression data were analyzed independently with two different workflows (TIFF 653 kb)

Suppl. Fig. 2

Overlap of ranked fold-changes (treatment vs. control) from pairwise experiments with the HepaRG assay (PDF 270 kb)

Suppl. Fig. 3

Overlap of ranked fold-changes (treatment vs. control) from pairwise experiments with the RPTEC/TERT1 assay (PDF 277 kb)

Suppl. material. 4

(PDF 172 kb)

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Herwig, R., Gmuender, H., Corvi, R. et al. Inter-laboratory study of human in vitro toxicogenomics-based tests as alternative methods for evaluating chemical carcinogenicity: a bioinformatics perspective. Arch Toxicol 90, 2215–2229 (2016).

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