A method for rapid dose-response screening of environmental chemicals using human embryonic stem cells

J Pharmacol Toxicol Methods. 2012 Nov-Dec;66(3):238-45. doi: 10.1016/j.vascn.2012.07.003. Epub 2012 Jul 20.


Introduction: Human embryonic stem cells (hESC) provide an invaluable model for assessing the effects of environmental chemicals and drugs on human prenatal development. However, hESC are difficult to adapt to 96-well plate screening assays, because they survive best when plated as colonies, which are difficult to count and plate accurately. The purpose of this study is to present an experimental method and analysis procedure to accomplish reliable screening of toxicants using hESC.

Methods: We present a method developed to rapidly and easily determine the number of cells in small colonies of hESC spectrophotometerically and then accurately dispense equivalent numbers of cells in 96-well plates. The MTT assay was used to evaluate plating accuracy, and the method was tested using known toxicants.

Results: The quality of the plate set-up and analysis procedure was evaluated with NIH plate validation and assessment software. All statistical parameters measured by the software were acceptable, and no drift or edge effects were observed. The 96-well plate MTT assay with hESC was tested by performing a dose-response screen of commercial products, which contain a variety of chemicals. The screen was done using single wells/dose, and the reliability of this method was demonstrated in a subsequent screen of the same products repeated three times. The single and triple screens were in good agreement, and NOAELs and IC(50)s could be determined from the single screen. The effects of vapor from volatile chemicals were studied, and methods to monitor and avoid vapor effects were incorporated into the assay.

Discussion: Our method overcomes the difficulty of using hESC for reliable quantitative 96-well plate assays. It enables rapid dose-response screening using equipment that is commonly available in laboratories that culture hESC. This method could have a broad application in studies of environmental chemicals and drugs using hESC as models of prenatal development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Cell Count
  • Cell Culture Techniques*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / administration & dosage
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Level
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Time Factors


  • Environmental Pollutants