Assessment of Drug-Induced Liver Injury through Cell Morphology and Gene Expression Analysis

Chemical Research in Toxicology
Lejal Vanille, Cerisier Natacha, Rouquié David, Taboureau Olivier
DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.2c00381
PMID: 37652439
Keyword: apoptosis · cell cycle · cell proliferation · chemical and drug induced liver injury / genetics · gene expression profiling · high-content screening / imaging


Drug-induced liver injury (DILI) is a significant concern in drug development, often leading to drug withdrawal. Although many studies aim to identify biomarkers and gene/pathway signatures related to liver toxicity and aim to predict DILI compounds, this remains a challenge in drug discovery. With a strong development of high-content screening/imaging (HCS/HCI) for phenotypic screening, we explored the morphological cell perturbations induced by DILI compounds. In the first step, cell morphological signatures were associated with two datasets of DILI chemicals (DILIRank and eTox). The mechanisms of action were then analyzed for chemicals having transcriptomics data and sharing similar morphological perturbations. Signaling pathways associated with liver toxicity (cell cycle, cell growth, apoptosis, …) were then captured, and a hypothetical relation between cell morphological perturbations and gene deregulation was illustrated within our analysis. Finally, using the cell morphological signatures, machine learning approaches were developed to predict chemicals with a potential risk of DILI. Some models showed relevant performance with validation set balanced accuracies between 0.645 and 0.739. Overall, our findings demonstrate the utility of combining HCI with transcriptomics data to identify the morphological and gene expression signatures related to DILI chemicals. Moreover, our protocol could be extended to other toxicity end points, offering a promising avenue for comprehensive toxicity assessment in drug discovery.