A framework for the use of single-chemical transcriptomics data in predicting the hazards associated with complex mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Arch Toxicol. 2017 Jul;91(7):2599-2616. doi: 10.1007/s00204-016-1891-8. Epub 2016 Nov 17.


The assumption of additivity applied in the risk assessment of environmental mixtures containing carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was investigated using transcriptomics. MutaTMMouse were gavaged for 28 days with three doses of eight individual PAHs, two defined mixtures of PAHs, or coal tar, an environmentally ubiquitous complex mixture of PAHs. Microarrays were used to identify differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in lung tissue collected 3 days post-exposure. Cancer-related pathways perturbed by the individual or mixtures of PAHs were identified, and dose-response modeling of the DEGs was conducted to calculate gene/pathway benchmark doses (BMDs). Individual PAH-induced pathway perturbations (the median gene expression changes for all genes in a pathway relative to controls) and pathway BMDs were applied to models of additivity [i.e., concentration addition (CA), generalized concentration addition (GCA), and independent action (IA)] to generate predicted pathway-specific dose-response curves for each PAH mixture. The predicted and observed pathway dose-response curves were compared to assess the sensitivity of different additivity models. Transcriptomics-based additivity calculation showed that IA accurately predicted the pathway perturbations induced by all mixtures of PAHs. CA did not support the additivity assumption for the defined mixtures; however, GCA improved the CA predictions. Moreover, pathway BMDs derived for coal tar were comparable to BMDs derived from previously published coal tar-induced mouse lung tumor incidence data. These results suggest that in the absence of tumor incidence data, individual chemical-induced transcriptomics changes associated with cancer can be used to investigate the assumption of additivity and to predict the carcinogenic potential of a mixture.

Keywords: Additivity; Complex mixtures; Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; Toxicogenomics; Transcriptomics.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Complex Mixtures / toxicity
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / chemistry
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity*


  • Complex Mixtures
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons