Metabolic modeling of sex-specific tissue predicts mechanisms of differences in toxicological responses

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2023 Feb 7:2023.02.07.527430. doi: 10.1101/2023.02.07.527430.


Male subjects in animal and human studies are disproportionately used for toxicological testing. This discrepancy is evidenced in clinical medicine where females are more likely than males to experience liver-related adverse events in response to xenobiotics. While previous work has shown gene expression differences between the sexes, there is a lack of systems-level approaches to understand the direct clinical impact effect of these differences. Here, we integrate gene expression data with metabolic network models to characterize the impact of transcriptional changes of metabolic genes in the context of sex differences and drug treatment. We used Tasks Inferred from Differential Expression (TIDEs), a reaction-centric approach to analyzing differences in gene expression, to discover that androgen, ether lipid, glucocorticoid, tryptophan, and xenobiotic metabolism have more activity in the male liver, and serotonin, melatonin, pentose, glucuronate, and vitamin A metabolism have more activity in the female liver. When TIDEs is used to compare expression differences in treated and untreated hepatocytes, we see little response in those sex-altered subsystems, and the largest differences are in subsystems related to lipid metabolism. Finally, using sex-specific transcriptomic data, we create individual and averaged male and female liver models and find differences in the import of bile acids and salts. This result suggests that the sexually dimorphic behavior of the liver may be caused by differences in enterohepatic recirculation, and we suggest an investigation into sex-specific microbiome composition as an avenue of further research.

Author summary: Male-bias in clinical testing of drugs has led to a disproportionate number of hepatotoxic events in women. Previous works use gene-by-gene differences in biological sex to explain this discrepancy, but there is little focus on the systematic interactions of these differences. To this end, we use a combination of gene expression data and metabolic modeling to compare metabolic activity between the male and female liver and treated and untreated hepatocytes. We find several subsystems with differential activity in each sex; however, when comparing these subsystems with those pathways altered by hepatotoxic agents, we find little overlap. To explore these differences on a reaction-by-reaction basis, we use the same sex-specific transcriptomic data to contextualize the previously published Human1 human cell metabolic model. In these models we find a difference in flux for the import of bile acids and salts, suggesting a potential difference in enterohepatic circulation. These findings can help guide future drug design, toxicological testing, and sex-specific research to better account for the entire human population.

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