Background: Nitrotoluenes are widely used chemical manufacturing and munitions applications. This group of chemicals has been shown to cause a range of effects from anemia and hypercholesterolemia to testicular atrophy. We have examined the molecular and functional effects of five different, but structurally related, nitrotoluenes on using an integrative systems biology approach to gain insight into common and disparate mechanisms underlying effects caused by these chemicals.
Methodology/principal findings: Sprague-Dawley female rats were exposed via gavage to one of five concentrations of one of five nitrotoluenes [2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT), 2-amino-4,6-dinitrotoluene (2ADNT) 4-amino-2,6-dinitrotoulene (4ADNT), 2,4-dinitrotoluene (2,4DNT) and 2,6-dinitrotoluene (2,6DNT)] with necropsy and tissue collection at 24 or 48 h. Gene expression profile results correlated well with clinical data and liver histopathology that lead to the concept that hematotoxicity was followed by hepatotoxicity. Overall, 2,4DNT, 2,6DNT and TNT had stronger effects than 2ADNT and 4ADNT. Common functional terms, gene expression patterns, pathways and networks were regulated across all nitrotoluenes. These pathways included NRF2-mediated oxidative stress response, aryl hydrocarbon receptor signaling, LPS/IL-1 mediated inhibition of RXR function, xenobiotic metabolism signaling and metabolism of xenobiotics by cytochrome P450. One biological process common to all compounds, lipid metabolism, was found to be impacted both at the transcriptional and lipid production level.
Conclusions/significance: A systems biology strategy was used to identify biochemical pathways affected by five nitroaromatic compounds and to integrate data that tie biochemical alterations to pathological changes. An integrative graphical network model was constructed by combining genomic, gene pathway, lipidomic, and physiological endpoint results to better understand mechanisms of liver toxicity and physiological endpoints affected by these compounds.