Testing for developmental neurotoxicity using a battery ofin vitroassays for key cellular events in neurodevelopment

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Abstract

Medium- to high-throughput in vitro assays that recapitulate the critical processes of nervous system development have been proposed as a means to facilitate rapid testing and identification of chemicals which may affect brain development. In vivo neurodevelopment is a complex progression of distinct cellular processes. Therefore, batteries of in vitro assays that model and quantify effects on a variety of neurodevelopmental processes have the potential to identify chemicals which may affect brain development at different developmental stages. In the present study, the results of concentration-response screening of 67 reference chemicals in a battery of high content imaging and microplate reader-based assays that evaluate neural progenitor cell proliferation, neural proginitor cell apoptosis, neurite initiation/outgrowth, neurite maturation and synaptogenesis are summarized and compared. The assay battery had a high degree of combined sensitivity (87%) for categorizing chemicals known to affect neurodevelopment as active and a moderate degree of combined specificity (71%) for categorizing chemicals not associated with affects on neurodevelopment as inactive. The combined sensitivity of the assay battery was higher compared to any individual assay while the combined specificity of the assay battery was lower compared to any individual assay. When selectivity of effects for a neurodevelopmental endpoint as compared to general cytotoxicity was taken into account, the combined sensitivity of the assay battery decreased (68%) while the combined specificity increased (93%). The identity and potency of chemicals identified as active varied across the assay battery, underscoring the need for use of a combination of diverse in vitro models to comprehensively screen chemicals and identify those which potentially affect neurodevelopment. Overall, these data indicate that a battery of assays which address many different processes in nervous system development may be used to identify potential developmental neurotoxicants and to distinguish specific from generalized cytotoxic effects with a high degree of success.

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