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Using ToxCast to Explore Chemical Activities and Hazard Traits: A Case Study With Ortho- Phthalates


US EPA's Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCastTM) is a tool with potential use in evaluating safer consumer products, conducting chemical alternatives analyses, prioritizing chemicals for exposure monitoring, and ultimately performing screening-level risk assessments. As a case study exploring a potential use of ToxCast, we evaluated ToxCast results for ortho-phthalates focused on the well-established toxicological endpoints of some members of this class. We compared molecular perturbations measured in ToxCast assays with the known apical toxicity endpoints of o-phthalates reported in the open literature to broadly reflect on the predictive capability of the high-throughput screening (HTS) assays. We grouped the ToxCast assays into defined sets to examine o-phthalate activity and potency. This study revealed several links between key molecular events assayed in vitro and chemical-specific hazard traits. In general, parent o-phthalates are more active than their monoester metabolites. The medium-chain length o-phthalate group is also more active than other o-phthalate groups, as supported by Toxicological Priority Index ranking and statistical methods. Some HTS assay results correlated with in vivo findings, but others did not. For example, there was a notable lack of assay activity to explain the known male reproductive toxicity of these compounds. Ultimately, HTS data resources such as ToxCast may inform us of sensitive upstream toxicity endpoints and may assist in the rapid identification of environmental chemical hazards for screening and prioritization. However, this case study shows that the absence of positive results in ToxCast in vitro assays cannot be interpreted as absence of related in vivo toxicity, and limited biological coverage by the assays remains a concern.

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