Flow cytometric micronucleus assay and TGx-DDI transcriptomic biomarker analysis of ten genotoxic and non-genotoxic chemicals in human HepaRG™ cells

Genes Environ. 2020 Feb 4:42:5. doi: 10.1186/s41021-019-0139-2. eCollection 2020.


Background: Modern testing paradigms seek to apply human-relevant cell culture models and integrate data from multiple test systems to accurately inform potential hazards and modes of action for chemical toxicology. In genetic toxicology, the use of metabolically competent human hepatocyte cell culture models provides clear advantages over other more commonly used cell lines that require the use of external metabolic activation systems, such as rat liver S9. HepaRG™ cells are metabolically competent cells that express Phase I and II metabolic enzymes and differentiate into mature hepatocyte-like cells, making them ideal for toxicity testing. We assessed the performance of the flow cytometry in vitro micronucleus (MN) test and the TGx-DDI transcriptomic biomarker to detect DNA damage-inducing (DDI) chemicals in human HepaRG™ cells after a 3-day repeat exposure. The biomarker, developed for use in human TK6 cells, is a panel of 64 genes that accurately classifies chemicals as DDI or non-DDI. Herein, the TGx-DDI biomarker was analyzed by Ion AmpliSeq whole transcriptome sequencing to assess its classification accuracy using this more modern gene expression technology as a secondary objective.

Methods: HepaRG™ cells were exposed to increasing concentrations of 10 test chemicals (six genotoxic chemicals, including one aneugen, and four non-genotoxic chemicals). Cytotoxicity and genotoxicity were measured using the In Vitro MicroFlow® kit, which was run in parallel with the TGx-DDI biomarker.

Results: A concentration-related decrease in relative survival and a concomitant increase in MN frequency were observed for genotoxic chemicals in HepaRG™ cells. All five DDI and five non-DDI agents were correctly classified (as genotoxic/non-genotoxic and DDI/non-DDI) by pairing the test methods. The aneugenic agent (colchicine) yielded the expected positive result in the MN test and negative (non-DDI) result by TGx-DDI.

Conclusions: This next generation genotoxicity testing strategy is aligned with the paradigm shift occurring in the field of genetic toxicology. It provides mechanistic insight in a human-relevant cell-model, paired with measurement of a conventional endpoint, to inform the potential for adverse health effects. This work provides support for combining these assays in an integrated test strategy for accurate, higher throughput genetic toxicology testing in this metabolically competent human progenitor cell line.

Keywords: Genetic toxicology; Micronucleus; RNA-Seq; TGx-28.65 genomic biomarker; Toxicogenomics.