Combination of multiple neural crest migration assays to identify environmental toxicants from a proof-of-concept chemical library

Arch Toxicol. 2017 Nov;91(11):3613-3632. doi: 10.1007/s00204-017-1977-y. Epub 2017 May 5.


Many in vitro tests have been developed to screen for potential neurotoxicity. However, only few cell function-based tests have been used for comparative screening, and thus experience is scarce on how to confirm and evaluate screening hits. We addressed these questions for the neural crest cell migration test (cMINC). After an initial screen, a hit follow-up strategy was devised. A library of 75 compounds plus internal controls (NTP80-list), assembled by the National Toxicology Program of the USA (NTP) was used. It contained some known classes of (developmental) neurotoxic compounds. The primary screen yielded 23 confirmed hits, which comprised ten flame retardants, seven pesticides and six drug-like compounds. Comparison of concentration-response curves for migration and viability showed that all hits were specific. The extent to which migration was inhibited was 25-90%, and two organochlorine pesticides (DDT, heptachlor) were most efficient. In the second part of this study, (1) the cMINC assay was repeated under conditions that prevent proliferation; (2) a transwell migration assay was used as a different type of migration assay; (3) cells were traced to assess cell speed. Some toxicants had largely varying effects between assays, but each hit was confirmed in at least one additional test. This comparative study allows an estimate on how confidently the primary hits from a cell function-based screen can be considered as toxicants disturbing a key neurodevelopmental process. Testing of the NTP80-list in more assays will be highly interesting to assemble a test battery and to build prediction models for developmental toxicity.

Keywords: Cell migration; Cell tracking; Cytotoxicity; Developmental toxicity; High content imaging; Human stem cells.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Movement / drug effects*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DDT / toxicity
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods
  • Heptachlor / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Neural Crest / cytology*
  • Neural Crest / drug effects
  • Time-Lapse Imaging
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*


  • Heptachlor
  • DDT