Usage of model combination in computational toxicology

Toxicology Letters
Rodríguez-Belenguer Pablo, March-Vila Eric, Pastor Manuel, Mangas-Sanjuan Victor, Soria-Olivas Emilio
DOI: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2023.10.013
PMID: 37890682
Keyword: complexities · machine learning · metamodel · NAMs · QSAR.


New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) have ushered in a new era in the field of toxicology, aiming to replace animal testing. However, despite these advancements, they are not exempt from the inherent complexities associated with the study’s endpoint. In this review, we have identified three major groups of complexities: mechanistic, chemical space, and methodological. The mechanistic complexity arises from interconnected biological processes within a network that are challenging to model in a single step. In the second group, chemical space complexity exhibits significant dissimilarity between compounds in the training and test series. The third group encompasses algorithmic and molecular descriptor limitations and typical class imbalance problems. To address these complexities, this work provides a guide to the usage of a combination of predictive Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship (QSAR) models, known as metamodels. This combination of low-level models (LLMs) enables a more precise approach to the problem by focusing on different sub-mechanisms or sub-processes. For mechanistic complexity, multiple Molecular Initiating Events (MIEs) or levels of information are combined to form a mechanistic-based metamodel. Regarding the complexity arising from chemical space, two types of approaches were reviewed to construct a fragment-based chemical space metamodel: those with and without structure sharing. Metamodels with structure sharing utilize unsupervised strategies to identify data patterns and build low-level models for each cluster, which are then combined. For situations without structure sharing due to pharmaceutical industry intellectual property, the use of prediction sharing, and federated learning approaches have been reviewed. Lastly, to tackle methodological complexity, various algorithms are combined to overcome their limitations, diverse descriptors are employed to enhance problem definition and balanced dataset combinations are used to address class imbalance issues (methodological-based metamodels). Remarkably, metamodels consistently outperformed classical QSAR models across all cases, highlighting the importance of alternatives to classical QSAR models when faced with such complexities.