Migration of neural crest cells (NCC) is a fundamental developmental process, and test methods to identify interfering toxicants have been developed. By examining cell function endpoints, as in the 'migration-inhibition of NCC (cMINC)' assay, a large number of toxicity mechanisms and protein targets can be covered. However, the key events that lead to the adverse effects of a given chemical or group of related compounds are hard to elucidate. To address this issue, we explored here, whether the establishment of two overlapping structure-activity relationships (SAR)-linking chemical structure on the one hand to a phenotypic test outcome, and on the other hand to a mechanistic endpoint-was useful as strategy to identify relevant toxicity mechanisms. For this purpose, we chose polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) as a large group of related, but still toxicologically and physicochemically diverse structures. We obtained concentration-dependent data for 26 PCBs in the cMINC assay. Moreover, the test chemicals were evaluated by a new high-content imaging method for their effect on cellular re-distribution of connexin43 and for their capacity to inhibit gap junctions. Non-planar PCBs inhibited NCC migration. The potency (1-10 µM) correlated with the number of ortho-chlorine substituents; non-ortho-chloro (planar) PCBs were non-toxic. The toxicity to NCC partially correlated with gap junction inhibition, while it fully correlated (p < 0.0004) with connexin43 cellular re-distribution. Thus, our double-SAR strategy revealed a mechanistic step tightly linked to NCC toxicity of PCBs. Connexin43 patterns in NCC may be explored as a new endpoint relevant to developmental toxicity screening.
Keywords: Cell migration; Cell tracking; Cytotoxicity; Developmental toxicity; High-content imaging; Human stem cells.