Structure-based thresholds of toxicological concern (TTC): guidance for application to substances present at low levels in the diet

Food Chem Toxicol. 2004 Jan;42(1):65-83. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2003.08.006.


The threshold of toxicological concern (TTC) is a pragmatic risk assessment tool that is based on the principle of establishing a human exposure threshold value for all chemicals, below which there is a very low probability of an appreciable risk to human health. The concept that there are levels of exposure that do not cause adverse effects is inherent in setting acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) for chemicals with known toxicological profiles. The TTC principle extends this concept by proposing that a de minimis value can be identified for many chemicals, in the absence of a full toxicity database, based on their chemical structures and the known toxicity of chemicals which share similar structural characteristics. The establishment and application of widely accepted TTC values would benefit consumers, industry and regulators. By avoiding unnecessary toxicity testing and safety evaluations when human intakes are below such a threshold, application of the TTC approach would focus limited resources of time, cost, animal use and expertise on the testing and evaluation of substances with the greatest potential to pose risks to human health and thereby contribute to a reduction in the use of animals. An Expert Group of the European branch of the International Life Sciences Institute-ILSI Europe-has examined the TTC principle for its wider applicability in food safety evaluation. The Expert Group examined metabolism and accumulation, structural alerts, endocrine disrupting chemicals and specific endpoints, such as neurotoxicity, teratogenicity, developmental toxicity, allergenicity and immunotoxicity, and determined whether such properties or endpoints had to be taken into consideration specifically in a step-wise approach. The Expert Group concluded that the TTC principle can be applied for low concentrations in food of chemicals that lack toxicity data, provided that there is a sound intake estimate. The use of a decision tree to apply the TTC principle is proposed, and this paper describes the step-wise process in detail. Proteins, heavy metals and polyhalogenated-dibenzodioxins and related compounds were excluded from this approach. When assessing a chemical, a review of prior knowledge and context of use should always precede the use of the TTC decision tree. The initial step is the identification and evaluation of possible genotoxic and/or high potency carcinogens. Following this step, non-genotoxic substances are evaluated in a sequence of steps related to the concerns that would be associated with increasing intakes. For organophosphates a TTC of 18microg per person per day (0.3 microg/kg bw/day) is proposed, and when the compound is not an OP, the TTC values for the Cramer structural classes III, II and I, with their respective TTC levels (e.g. 1800, 540 and 90 microg per person per day; or 30, 9 and 1.5 microg/kg bw /day), would be applied sequentially. All other endpoints or properties were shown to have a distribution of no observed effect levels (NOELs) similar to the distribution of NOELs for general toxicity endpoints in Cramer classes I, II and III. The document was discussed with a wider audience during a workshop held in March 2003 (see list of workshop participants).

Publication types

  • Guideline
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / toxicity
  • Decision Trees
  • Diet*
  • Endocrine Glands / drug effects
  • Food / toxicity*
  • Food Hypersensitivity
  • Humans
  • Metabolism
  • No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Level
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Risk Assessment
  • Structure-Activity Relationship*


  • Carcinogens