High-Content Analysis in Toxicology: Screening Substances for Human Toxicity Potential, Elucidating Subcellular Mechanisms andIn VivoUse as Translational Safety Biomarkers

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High-content analysis (HCA) of in vitro biochemical and morphological effects of classic (small molecule) drugs and chemicals is concordant with potential for human toxicity. For hepatotoxicity, concordance is greater for cytotoxic effects assessed by HCA than for conventional cytotoxicity tests and for regulatory animal toxicity studies. Additionally, HCA identifies chronic toxicity potential, and drugs producing idiosyncratic adverse reactions and/or toxic metabolites are also identified by HCA. Mechanistic information on the subcellular basis for the toxicity is frequently identified, including various mitochondrial effects, oxidative stress, calcium dyshomeostasis, phospholipidosis, apoptosis and antiproliferative effects, and a fingerprinting of the sequence and pattern of subcellular events. As these effects are frequently non-specific and affect many cell types, some toxicities may be detected and monitored by HCA of peripheral blood cells, such as for anticancer and anti-infective drugs. Critical methodological and interpretive features are identified that are critical to the effectiveness of the HCA cytotoxicity assessment, including the need for multiple days of exposure of cells to drug, use of a human hepatocyte cell line with metabolic competence, assessment of multiple pre-lethal effects in individual live cells, consideration of hormesis, the need for interpretation of relevance of cytotoxicity concentration compared to efficacy concentration and quality management. Limitations of the HCA include assessment of drugs that act on receptors, transporters or processes not found in hepatocytes. HCA may be used in a) screening lead candidates for potential human toxicity in drug discovery alongside of in vitro assessment of efficacy and pharmacokinetics, b) elucidating mechanisms of toxicity and c) monitoring in vivo toxicity of drugs with known toxicity of known mechanism.

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