Bioactivity Profiling of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Identifies Potential Toxicity Pathways Related to Molecular Structure

By Keith A Houck, Grace Patlewicz, Ann Richard, Antony J Williams, Mahmoud A Shobair, Marci Smeltz, M Scott Clifton, Barbara Wetmore, Alex Medvedev, and Sergei Makarov
April 28, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.tox.2021.152789

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a broad class of hundreds of fluorinated chemicals with environmental health concerns due to their widespread presence and persistence in the environment. Several of these chemicals have been comprehensively studied for experimental toxicity, environmental fate and exposure, and human epidemiology; however, most chemicals have limited or no data available. To inform methods for prioritizing these data-poor chemicals for detailed toxicity studies, we evaluated 142 PFAS using an in vitro screening platform consisting of two multiplexed transactivation assays encompassing 81 diverse transcription factor activities and tested in concentration-response format ranging from 137 nM to 300 μM. Results showed activity for various nuclear receptors, including three known PFAS targets--specifically estrogen receptor alpha and peroxisome proliferator receptors alpha and gamma. We also report activity against the retinoid X receptor beta, the key heterodimeric partner of type II, non-steroidal nuclear receptors. Additional activities were found against the pregnane X receptor, nuclear receptor related-1 protein, and nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2, a sensor of oxidative stress. Using orthogonal assay approaches, we confirmed activity of representative PFAS against several of these targets. Finally, we identified key PFAS structural features associated with nuclear receptor activity that can inform future predictive models for use in prioritizing chemicals for risk assessment and in the design of new structures devoid of biological activity.

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