Metabolic network-based predictions of toxicant-induced metabolite changes in the laboratory rat

Sci Rep. 2018 Aug 3;8(1):11678. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-30149-7.


In order to provide timely treatment for organ damage initiated by therapeutic drugs or exposure to environmental toxicants, we first need to identify markers that provide an early diagnosis of potential adverse effects before permanent damage occurs. Specifically, the liver, as a primary organ prone to toxicants-induced injuries, lacks diagnostic markers that are specific and sensitive to the early onset of injury. Here, to identify plasma metabolites as markers of early toxicant-induced injury, we used a constraint-based modeling approach with a genome-scale network reconstruction of rat liver metabolism to incorporate perturbations of gene expression induced by acetaminophen, a known hepatotoxicant. A comparison of the model results against the global metabolic profiling data revealed that our approach satisfactorily predicted altered plasma metabolite levels as early as 5 h after exposure to 2 g/kg of acetaminophen, and that 10 h after treatment the predictions significantly improved when we integrated measured central carbon fluxes. Our approach is solely driven by gene expression and physiological boundary conditions, and does not rely on any toxicant-specific model component. As such, it provides a mechanistic model that serves as a first step in identifying a list of putative plasma metabolites that could change due to toxicant-induced perturbations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Glycogenolysis / drug effects
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / physiology
  • Male
  • Metabolic Flux Analysis
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways* / drug effects
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways* / genetics
  • Metabolome* / drug effects
  • Metabolome* / genetics
  • Pyruvates / metabolism
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Pyruvates
  • Acetaminophen