Stem cells in toxicology: fundamental biology and practical considerations

Toxicol Sci. 2011 Mar;120 Suppl 1:S269-89. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfq370. Epub 2010 Dec 16.


This "Commentary" has examined the use of human stem cells for detection of toxicities of physical, chemical, and biological toxins/toxicants in response to the challenge posed by the NRC Report, "Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A vision and Strategy." Before widespread application of the use of human embryonic, pluripotent, "iPS," or adult stem cells be considered, the basic characterization of stem cell biology should be undertaken. Because no in vitro system can mimic all factors that influence cells in vivo (individual genetic, gender, developmental, immunological and diurnal states; niche conditions; complex intercellular interactions between stem, progenitor, terminal differentiated cells, and the signaling from extracellular matrices, oxygen tensions, etc.), attempts should be made to use both embryonic and adult stem cells, grown in three dimension under "niche-like" conditions. Because many toxins and toxicants work by "epigenetic" mechanisms and that epigenetic mechanisms play important roles in regulating gene expression and in the pathogenesis of many human diseases, epigenetic toxicity must be incorporated in toxicity testing. Because modulation of gap junctional intercellular communication by epigenetic agents plays a major role in homeostatic regulation of both stem and progenitor cells in normal tissues, the modulation of this biological process by both endogenous and endogenous chemicals should be incorporated as an end point to monitor for potential toxicities or chemo-preventive attributes. In addition, modulation of quantity, as well as the quality, of stem cells should be considered as potential source of a chemical's toxic potential in affecting any stem cell-based pathology, such as cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Adult Stem Cells / physiology
  • Animals
  • Carcinogenicity Tests
  • Cell Communication / drug effects
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / physiology
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects
  • Female
  • Gap Junctions / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*
  • Toxicology*
  • Xenobiotics / toxicity*


  • Xenobiotics