Mapping Interindividual Variability of Toxicodynamics Using High-Throughput Transcriptomics and Primary Human Hepatocytes from Fifty Donors

Environmental Health Perspectives
Niemeijer Marije
Marije Niemeijer, Witold Wie Rcek, Shuai Fu, Suzanna Huppelschoten, Peter Bouwman, Audrey Baze, Céline Parmentier, Lysiane Richert, Richard S. Paules, Frederic Y. Bois, Bob van de Water
DOI: 10.1289/EHP11891
PMID: 38498338
Keyword: Gene Expression Profiling, Hepatocytes, Oxidative Stress, Transcriptome


Background: Understanding the variability across the human population with respect to toxicodynamic responses after exposure to chemicals, such as environmental toxicants or drugs, is essential to define safety factors for risk assessment to protect the entire population. Activation of cellular stress response pathways are early adverse outcome pathway (AOP) key events of chemical-induced toxicity and would elucidate the estimation of population variability of toxicodynamic responses.

Objectives: We aimed to map the variability in cellular stress response activation in a large panel of primary human hepatocyte (PHH) donors to aid in the quantification of toxicodynamic interindividual variability to derive safety uncertainty factors.

Methods: High-throughput transcriptomics of over 8,000 samples in total was performed covering a panel of 50 individual PHH donors upon 8 to 24 h exposure to broad concentration ranges of four different toxicological relevant stimuli: tunicamycin for the unfolded protein response (UPR), diethyl maleate for the oxidative stress response (OSR), cisplatin for the DNA damage response (DDR), and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF𝛼) for NF-𝜅𝐵 signaling. Using a population mixed-effect framework, the distribution of benchmark concentrations (BMCs) and maximum fold change were modeled to evaluate the influence of PHH donor panel size on the correct estimation of interindividual variability for the various stimuli.

Results: Transcriptome mapping allowed the investigation of the interindividual variability in concentration-dependent stress response activation, where the average of BMCs had a maximum difference of 864-, 13-, 13-, and 259-fold between different PHHs for UPR, OSR, DDR, and NF-𝜅𝐵 signaling-related genes, respectively. Population modeling revealed that small PHH panel sizes systematically underestimated the variance and gave low probabilities in estimating the correct human population variance. Estimated toxicodynamic variability factors of stress response activation in PHHs based on this dataset ranged between 1.6 and 6.3.

Discussion: Overall, by combining high-throughput transcriptomics and population modeling, improved understanding of interindividual variability in chemical-induced activation of toxicity relevant stress pathways across the human population using a large panel of plated cryopreserved PHHs was established, thereby contributing toward increasing the confidence of in vitro-based prediction of adverse responses, in particular hepatotoxicity.