High-throughput transcriptomic analysis of human primary hepatocyte spheroids exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as a platform for relative potency characterization

By A Rowan-Carroll, A Reardon, K Leingartner, R Gagné, A Williams, M J Meier, B Kuo, J Bourdon-Lacombe, I Moffat, R Carrier, A Nong, L Lorusso, S S Ferguson, E Atlas, and C Yauk
Toxicol Sci
March 30, 2021
DOI: 10.1093/toxsci/kfab039

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are widely found in the environment because of their extensive use and persistence. Although several PFAS are well studied, most lack toxicity data to inform human health hazard and risk assessment. This study focussed on four model PFAS: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA; 8 carbon), perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS; 4 carbon), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS; 8 carbon), and perfluorodecane sulfonate (PFDS; 10 carbon). Human primary liver cell spheroids (pooled from 10 donors) were exposed to 10 concentrations of each PFAS and analyzed at four time-points. The approach aimed to: (1) identify gene expression changes mediated by the PFAS; (2) identify similarities in biological responses; (3) compare PFAS potency through benchmark concentration analysis; and (4) derive bioactivity exposure ratios (ratio of the concentration at which biological responses occur, relative to daily human exposure). All PFAS induced transcriptional changes in cholesterol biosynthesis and lipid metabolism pathways, and predicted PPARα activation. PFOS exhibited the most transcriptional activity and had a highly similar gene expression profile to PFDS. PFBS induced the least transcriptional changes and the highest benchmark concentration (i.e., was the least potent). The data indicate that these PFAS may have common molecular targets and toxicities, but that PFOS and PFDS are the most similar. The transcriptomic bioactivity exposure ratios derived here for PFOA and PFOS were comparable to those derived using rodent apical endpoints in risk assessments. These data provide a baseline level of toxicity for comparison with other known PFAS using this testing strategy.

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