Comparison of phenotypic and transcriptomic effects of false-positive genotoxins, true genotoxins and non-genotoxins using HepG2 cells

Mutagenesis. 2011 Sep;26(5):593-604. doi: 10.1093/mutage/ger021. Epub 2011 Jun 1.


The conventional in vitro assays for genotoxicity assessment of chemicals are characterised by a high false-positive rate, thus failing to correctly predict their in vivo genotoxic effects. This study aimed to identify the cellular mechanisms induced by the false-positive genotoxins quercetin, 8-Hydroxyquinoline and 17-beta oestradiol in comparison to true genotoxins and non-genotoxins, by combining in vitro phenotypic parameters with transcriptomics data from HepG2 cells. The effects of these compounds on the phosphorylation of H2AX, cell cycle distribution and whole genome gene expression following treatment for 12, 24 and 48 h were compared with the effects of true genotoxins [benzo[a]pyrene and aflatoxin B1] and non-genotoxins (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin, cyclosporin A and ampicillin C). Quercetin induced similar phenotypic effects as true genotoxins and to some extent similar gene expression alterations. Different gene expression changes were also observed, including the up-regulation of DNA repair-related genes. 8-Hydroxyquinoline and 17-beta oestradiol showed no similarities to the true genotoxins at both the phenotypic and the transcriptomic level. In a classification approach, classifiers were selected to discriminate between genotoxins and non-genotoxins. Subsequent analysis for the false-positive compounds showed quercetin to be predicted as genotoxic and 8-hydroxyquinoline and 17-beta oestradiol as non-genotoxic. Our results support that transcriptomics analysis of compound effects in HepG2 leads to similar results with phenotypic analysis and provides additional mechanistic information. Therefore, combined evaluation of gene expression alterations and relevant functional end points using HepG2 cells may contribute to the better understanding of modes-of-action of chemicals and the correct evaluation of their genotoxic properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects*
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Mutagens / pharmacology
  • Mutagens / toxicity*
  • Phenotype*


  • Mutagens