Comparative analysis between zebrafish and an automated live-cell assay to classify developmental neurotoxicant chemicals

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2023 Oct 1:476:116659. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2023.116659. Epub 2023 Aug 20.


Modern toxicology's throughput has dramatically increased due to alternative models, laboratory automation, and machine learning. This has enabled comparative studies across species and assays to prioritize chemical hazard potential and to understand how different model systems might complement one another. However, such comparative studies of high-throughput data are still in their infancy, with more groundwork needed to firmly establish the approach. Therefore, this study aimed to compare the bioactivity of the NIEHS Division of Translational Toxicology's (DTT) 87-compound developmental neurotoxicant (DNT) library in zebrafish and an in vitro high-throughput cell culture system. The early life-stage zebrafish provided a whole animal approach to developmental toxicity assessment. Chemical hits for abnormalities in embryonic zebrafish morphology, mortality, and behavior (ZBEscreen™) were compared with chemicals classified as high-risk by the Cell Health Index (CHI™), which is an outcome class probability from a machine learning classifier using 12 parameters from the SYSTEMETRIC® Cell Health Screen (CHS). The CHS was developed to assess human toxicity risk using supervised machine learning to classify acute cell stress phenotypes in a human leukemia cell line (HL60 cells) following a 4-h exposure to a chemical of interest. Due to the design of the screen, the zebrafish assays were more exhaustive, yielding 86 total bioactive hits, whereas the SYSTEMETRIC® CHS focusing on acute toxicity identified 20 chemicals as potentially toxic. The zebrafish embryonic and larval photomotor response assays (EPR and LPR, respectively) detected 40 of the 47 chemicals not found by the zebrafish morphological screen and CHS. Collectively, these results illustrate the advantages of using two alternative models in tandem for rapid hazard assessment and chemical prioritization and the effectiveness of CHI™ in identifying toxicity within a single multiparametric assay.

Keywords: Alternative models; Comparative analyses; Developmental neurotoxicity; Hazard assessment; High-throughput.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Assay
  • HL-60 Cells
  • Humans
  • Larva
  • Leukemia*
  • Zebrafish*