Reverse engineering adverse outcome pathways


  • Presented at the SETAC Pellston Workshop, Forest Grove, Oregon, USA, 18-23 April 2009.


The toxicological effects of many stressors are mediated through unknown, or incompletely characterized, mechanisms of action. The application of reverse engineering complex interaction networks from high dimensional omics data (gene, protein, metabolic, signaling) can be used to overcome these limitations. This approach was used to characterize adverse outcome pathways (AOPs) for chemicals that disrupt the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal endocrine axis in fathead minnows (FHM, Pimephales promelas). Gene expression changes in FHM ovaries in response to seven different chemicals, over different times, doses, and in vivo versus in vitro conditions, were captured in a large data set of 868 arrays. Potential AOPs of the antiandrogen flutamide were examined using two mutual information-based methods to infer gene regulatory networks and potential AOPs. Representative networks from these studies were used to predict network paths from stressor to adverse outcome as candidate AOPs. The relationship of individual chemicals to an adverse outcome can be determined by following perturbations through the network in response to chemical treatment, thus leading to the nodes associated with the adverse outcome. Identification of candidate pathways allows for formation of testable hypotheses about key biological processes, biomarkers, or alternative endpoints that can be used to monitor an AOP. Finally, the unique challenges facing the application of this approach in ecotoxicology were identified and a road map for the utilization of these tools presented. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011;30:22–38. © 2010 SETAC