Proposing a scientific confidence framework to help support the application of adverse outcome pathways for regulatory purposes

Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2015 Apr;71(3):463-77. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2015.02.011. Epub 2015 Feb 20.


An adverse outcome pathway (AOP) describes the causal linkage between initial molecular events and an adverse outcome at individual or population levels. Whilst there has been considerable momentum in AOP development, far less attention has been paid to how AOPs might be practically applied for different regulatory purposes. This paper proposes a scientific confidence framework (SCF) for evaluating and applying a given AOP for different regulatory purposes ranging from prioritizing chemicals for further evaluation, to hazard prediction, and ultimately, risk assessment. The framework is illustrated using three different AOPs for several typical regulatory applications. The AOPs chosen are ones that have been recently developed and/or published, namely those for estrogenic effects, skin sensitisation, and rodent liver tumor promotion. The examples confirm how critical the data-richness of an AOP is for driving its practical application. In terms of performing risk assessment, human dosimetry methods are necessary to inform meaningful comparisons with human exposures; dosimetry is applied to effect levels based on non-testing approaches and in vitro data. Such a comparison is presented in the form of an exposure:activity ratio (EAR) to interpret biological activity in the context of exposure and to provide a basis for product stewardship and regulatory decision making.

Keywords: (Q)SAR; Adverse outcome pathway (AOP); Exposure:activity ratio (EAR); Integrated approaches to testing and assessment (IATA); Mode of action (MoA); Read-across; Scientific confidence framework (SCF).

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenicity Tests
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Databases, Factual
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Approval*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity*
  • Estrogens / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Irritants / toxicity*
  • Liver Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Models, Biological*
  • Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Risk Assessment
  • Skin Irritancy Tests
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*
  • Toxicity Tests / standards


  • Carcinogens
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Estrogens
  • Irritants