Alternative methods to detect non-genotoxic carcinogens are urgently needed, as this class of carcinogens goes undetected in the current testing strategy for carcinogenicity under REACH. A complicating factor is that non-genotoxic carcinogens act through several distinctive modes of action, which makes prediction of their carcinogenic property difficult. We have recently demonstrated that gene expression profiling in primary mouse hepatocytes is a useful approach to categorize non-genotoxic carcinogens according to their modes of action. In the current study, we improved the methods used for analysis and added mouse embryonic stem cells as a second in vitro test system, because of their features complementary to hepatocytes. Our approach involved an unsupervised analysis based on the 30 most significantly up- and down-regulated genes per chemical. Mouse embryonic stem cells and primary mouse hepatocytes were exposed to a selected set of chemicals and subsequently subjected to gene expression profiling. We focused on non-genotoxic carcinogens, but also included genotoxic carcinogens and non-carcinogens to test the robustness of this approach. Application of the optimized comparison approach resulted in improved categorization of non-genotoxic carcinogens. Mouse embryonic stem cells were a useful addition, especially for genotoxic substances, but also for detection of non-genotoxic carcinogens that went undetected by primary hepatocytes. The approach presented here is an important step forward to categorize chemicals, especially those that are carcinogenic.
Keywords: Comparison approach; Gene expression profiles; Mode of action; Mouse embryonic stem cells; Non-genotoxic carcinogens; Primary mouse hepatocytes; Safety assessment of chemicals.