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Hazard assessment through hybrid in vitro / in silico approach: The case of zearalenone

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Veronika A. Ehrlich1, Luca Dellafiora2, Julie Mollergues1, Chiara Dall’Asta2, Patrick Serrant1, Maricel Marin-Kuan1, Elena Lo Piparo1, Benoit Schilter1 and Pietro Cozzini2
1 Chemical Food Safety Group, Food Quality & Safety Department, Nestlé Research Center, Lausanne, Switzerland;
2 Molecular Modelling Laboratory, Department of Food Science, University of Parma, Parma, Italy


Within the framework of reduction, refinement and replacement of animal experiments, new approaches for identification and characterization of chemical hazards have been developed. Grouping and read-across has been promoted as a most promising alternative approach. It uses existing toxicological information on a group of chemicals to make predictions on the toxicity of uncharacterized ones. In the present work, the feasibility of applying in vitro and in silico techniques to group chemicals for read-across was studied using the food mycotoxin zearalenone (ZEN) and metabolites as a case study. ZEN and its reduced metabolites are known to act through activation of the estrogen receptor α (ERα). The ranking of their estrogenic potencies appeared highly conserved across test systems including binding, in vitro and in vivo assays. This data suggests that activation of ERα may play a role in the molecular initiating event (MIE) and be predictive of adverse effects, and it provides the rationale to model receptor-binding for hazard identification. The investigation of receptor-ligand interactions through docking simulation proved to accurately rank estrogenic potencies of ZEN and reduced metabolites, showing the suitability of the model to address estrogenic potency for this group of compounds. Therefore, the model was further applied to biologically uncharacterized, commercially unavailable, oxidized ZEN metabolites (6α-, 6β-, 8α-, 8β-, 13- and 15-OH-ZEN). Except for 15-OH-ZEN, the data indicate that in general, the oxidized metabolites would be considered of lower estrogenic concern than ZEN and reduced metabolites.


Keywords: biological activity, docking, read-across, endocrine disrupting compounds, zearalenone



ALTEX 32(4), 275-286


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