Transcriptomic concentration-response evaluation of valproic acid, cyproconazole, and hexaconazole in the neural embryonic stem cell test (ESTn)

Toxicol Sci. 2012 Feb;125(2):430-8. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfr293. Epub 2011 Nov 1.


Alternative developmental toxicity assays are urgently needed to reduce animal use in regulatory developmental toxicology. We previously designed an in vitro murine neural embryonic stem cell test (ESTn) as a model for neurodevelopmental toxicity testing (Theunissen et al., 2010). Toxicogenomic approaches have been suggested for incorporation into the ESTn to further increase predictivity and to provide mechanistic insights. Therefore, in this study, using a transcriptomic approach, we investigated the concentration-dependent effects of three known (neuro) developmental toxicants, two triazoles, cyproconazole (CYP) and hexaconazole (HEX), and the anticonvulsant valproic acid (VPA). Compound effects on gene expression during neural differentiation and corresponding regulated gene ontology (GO) terms were identified after 24 h of exposure in relation to morphological changes on day 11 of culture. Concentration-dependent responses on individual gene expression and on biological processes were determined for each compound, providing information on mechanism and concentration-response characteristics. All compounds caused enrichment of the embryonic development process. CYP and VPA but not HEX significantly enriched the neuron development process. Furthermore, specific responses for triazole compounds and VPA were observed within the GO-term sterol metabolic process. The incorporation of transcriptomics in the ESTn was shown to enable detection of effects, which precede morphological changes and provide a more sensitive measure of concentration-dependent effects as compared with classical morphological assessments. Furthermore, mechanistic insight can be instrumental in the extrapolation of effects in the ESTn to human hazard assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Testing Alternatives
  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / pathology
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Neural Crest / drug effects*
  • Neural Crest / metabolism
  • Neural Crest / pathology
  • Neurites / drug effects
  • Neurites / pathology
  • Neurogenesis / drug effects*
  • Neurogenesis / genetics
  • Time Factors
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*
  • Triazoles / toxicity*
  • Valproic Acid / toxicity*


  • Triazoles
  • Valproic Acid
  • cyproconazole
  • hexaconazole