Concurrent Evaluation of Mortality and Behavioral Responses: A Fast and Efficient Testing Approach for High-Throughput Chemical Hazard Identification

Front Toxicol. 2021 Jun 15;3:670496. doi: 10.3389/ftox.2021.670496. eCollection 2021.


The continual introduction of new chemicals into the market necessitates fast, efficient testing strategies for evaluating their toxicity. Ideally, these high-throughput screening (HTS) methods should capture the entirety of biological complexity while minimizing reliance on expensive resources that are required to assess diverse phenotypic endpoints. In recent years, the zebrafish (Danio rerio) has become a preferred vertebrate model to conduct rapid in vivo toxicity tests. Previously, using HTS data on 1060 chemicals tested as part of the ToxCast program, we showed that early, 24 h post-fertilization (hpf), behavioral responses of zebrafish embryos are predictive of later, 120 h post-fertilization, adverse developmental endpoints-indicating that embryonic behavior is a useful endpoint related to observable morphological effects. Here, our goal was to assess the contributions (i.e., information gain) from multiple phenotypic data streams and propose a framework for efficient identification of chemical hazards. We systematically swept through analysis parameters for data on 24 hpf behavior, 120 hpf behavior, and 120 hpf morphology to optimize settings for each of these assays. We evaluated the concordance of data from behavioral assays with that from morphology. We found that combining information from behavioral and mortality assessments captures early signals of potential chemical hazards, obviating the need to evaluate a comprehensive suite of morphological endpoints in initial screens for toxicity. We have demonstrated that such a screening strategy is useful for detecting compounds that elicit adverse morphological responses, in addition to identifying hazardous compounds that do not disrupt the underlying morphology. The application of this design for rapid preliminary toxicity screening will accelerate chemical testing and aid in prioritizing chemicals for risk assessment.

Keywords: chemical hazard assessment; hazard identification; high-throughput screen; in vivo screening; zebrafish behavior; zebrafish neurotoxicity.