A High-Throughput Toxicity Screen of 42 Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Functional Assessment of Migration and Gene Expression in Human Placental Trophoblast Cells
By Bevin E. Blake, Brittany P. Rickard, and Suzanne E. Fenton
June 1, 2022
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have become ubiquitous environmental contaminants that have been associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes in women and experimental research models. Adverse developmental and reproductive outcomes have been investigated for relatively few PFAS, and such studies are not scalable to address the thousands of unique chemical structures. As the placenta has been reported as a PFAS target tissue, the human placental trophoblast JEG-3 cell line was employed in a high-throughput toxicity screen (HTTS) to evaluate the effects of 42 unique PFAS on viability, proliferation, and mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP). HTTS concentration-response curve fitting determined EC50 values for 79% of tested compounds for at least one of the three endpoints. Trophoblast migratory potential was evaluated for a subset of six prioritized PFAS using a scratch wound assay. Migration, measured as the percent of wound closure after 72 h, was most severely inhibited by exposure to 100 µM perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA; 72% closure), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS; 57% closure), or ammonium perfluoro-2-methyl-3-oxahexanoate (GenX; 79% closure). PFOA and GenX were subsequently evaluated for disrupted expression of 46 genes reported to be vital to trophoblast health. Disrupted regulation of oxidative stress was suggested by altered expression of GPEX1 (300 µM GenX and 3 µM GenX), GPER1 (300 µM GenX), and SOD1 and altered cellular response to xenobiotic stress was indicated by upregulation of the placental efflux transporter, ABCG2 (300 µM GenX, 3 µM GenX, and 100 µM PFOA). These findings suggest the placenta is potentially a direct target of PFAS exposure and indicate that trophoblast cell gene expression and function are disrupted at PFAS levels well below the calculated cytotoxicity threshold (EC50). Future work is needed to determine the mechanism(s) of action of PFAS towards placental trophoblasts.
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