The Extended ToxTracker Assay Discriminates Between Induction of DNA Damage, Oxidative Stress, and Protein Misfolding

Toxicol Sci. 2016 Mar;150(1):190-203. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfv323. Epub 2015 Dec 29.


Chemical exposure of cells may damage biomolecules, cellular structures, and organelles thereby jeopardizing cellular homeostasis. A multitude of defense mechanisms have evolved that can recognize specific types of damaged molecules and will initiate distinct cellular programs aiming to remove the damage inflicted and prevent cellular havoc. As a consequence, quantitative assessment of the activity of the cellular stress responses may serve as a sensitive reporter for the induction of specific types of damage. We have previously developed the ToxTracker assay, a mammalian stem cell-based genotoxicity assay employing two green fluorescent protein reporters specific for DNA damage and oxidative stress. We have now expanded the ToxTracker assay with an additional four reporter cell lines to include monitoring of additional stress signaling pathways. This panel of six green fluorescent protein reporters is able to discriminate between different primary reactivity of chemicals being their ability to react with DNA and block DNA replication, induce oxidative stress, activate the unfolded protein response, or cause a general P53-dependent cellular stress response. Extensive validation using the compound library suggested by the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) and a large panel of reference chemicals shows that the ToxTracker assay has an outstanding sensitivity and specificity. In addition, we developed Toxplot, a dedicated software tool for automated data analysis and graphical representation of the test results. Rapid and reliable identification by the ToxTracker assay of specific biological reactivity can significantly improve in vitro human hazard assessment of chemicals.

Keywords: DNA damage response; genotoxicity; mechanisms of toxicity; oxidative stress; reporter cell lines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • DNA Damage*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / pathology
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Mice
  • Mutagenicity Tests / methods*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Oxidative Stress / genetics
  • Protein Folding / drug effects*
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Biomarkers
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins