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1.  Environmental, Dietary, Maternal, and Fetal Predictors of Bulky DNA Adducts in Cord Blood: A European Mother–Child Study (NewGeneris) 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2015;123(4):374-380.
Bulky DNA adducts reflect genotoxic exposures, have been associated with lower birth weight, and may predict cancer risk.
We selected factors known or hypothesized to affect in utero adduct formation and repair and examined their associations with adduct levels in neonates.
Pregnant women from Greece, Spain, England, Denmark, and Norway were recruited in 2006–2010. Cord blood bulky DNA adduct levels were measured by the 32P-postlabeling technique (n = 511). Diet and maternal characteristics were assessed via questionnaires. Modeled exposures to air pollutants and drinking-water disinfection by-products, mainly trihalomethanes (THMs), were available for a large proportion of the study population.
Greek and Spanish neonates had higher adduct levels than the northern European neonates [median, 12.1 (n = 179) vs. 6.8 (n = 332) adducts per 108 nucleotides, p < 0.001]. Residence in southern European countries, higher maternal body mass index, delivery by cesarean section, male infant sex, low maternal intake of fruits rich in vitamin C, high intake of dairy products, and low adherence to healthy diet score were statistically significantly associated with higher adduct levels in adjusted models. Exposure to fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide was associated with significantly higher adducts in the Danish subsample only. Overall, the pooled results for THMs in water show no evidence of association with adduct levels; however, there are country-specific differences in results with a suggestion of an association in England.
These findings suggest that a combination of factors, including unknown country-specific factors, influence the bulky DNA adduct levels in neonates.
Pedersen M, Mendez MA, Schoket B, Godschalk RW, Espinosa A, Landström A, Villanueva CM, Merlo DF, Fthenou E, Gracia-Lavedan E, van Schooten FJ, Hoek G, Brunborg G, Meltzer HM, Alexander J, Nielsen JK, Sunyer J, Wright J, Kovács K, de Hoogh K, Gutzkow KB, Hardie LJ, Chatzi L, Knudsen LE, Anna L, Ketzel M, Haugen M, Botsivali M, Nieuwenhuijsen MJ, Cirach M, Toledano MB, Smith RB, Fleming S, Agramunt S, Kyrtopoulos SA, Lukács V, Kleinjans JC, Segerbäck D, Kogevinas M. 2015. Environmental, dietary, maternal, and fetal predictors of bulky DNA adducts in cord blood: a European mother–child study (NewGeneris). Environ Health Perspect 123:374–380;
PMCID: PMC4383575  PMID: 25626179
2.  MagiCMicroRna: a web implementation of AgiMicroRna using shiny 
MicroRNA expression can be quantified using sequencing techniques or commercial microRNA-expression arrays. Recently, the AgiMicroRna R-package was published that enabled systematic preprocessing and statistical analysis for Agilent microRNA arrays. Here we describe MagiCMicroRna, which is a user-friendly web interface for this package, together with a new filtering approach.
We used MagiCMicroRna to normalize and filter an Agilent miRNA microarray dataset of cancerous and normal tissues from 14 different patients. With the standard filtering procedure, 250 out of 817 microRNAs remained, whereas the new group-specific filtering approach resulted in broader datasets for further analysis in most groups (>279 microRNAs remaining).
The user-friendly web interface of MagiCMicroRna enables researchers to normalize and filter Agilent microarrays by the click of one button. Furthermore, MagiCMicroRna provides flexibility in choosing the filtering method. The new group-specific filtering approach lead to an increased number and additional tissue-specific microRNAs remaining for subsequent analysis compared to the standard procedure. The MagiCMicroRna web interface and source code can be downloaded from
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13029-015-0035-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4383057  PMID: 25838840
Web interface; MicroRNA; Microarray analysis; Data analysis; Agilent
3.  High-throughput data integration of RNA–miRNA–circRNA reveals novel insights into mechanisms of benzo[a]pyrene-induced carcinogenicity 
Nucleic Acids Research  2015;43(5):2525-2534.
The chain of events leading from a toxic compound exposure to carcinogenicity is still barely understood. With the emergence of high-throughput sequencing, it is now possible to discover many different biological components simultaneously. Using two different RNA libraries, we sequenced the complete transcriptome of human HepG2 liver cells exposed to benzo[a]pyrene, a potent human carcinogen, across six time points. Data were integrated in order to reveal novel complex chemical–gene interactions. Notably, we hypothesized that the inhibition of MGMT, a DNA damage response enzyme, by the over-expressed miR-181a-1_3p induced by BaP, may lead to liver cancer over time.
PMCID: PMC4357716  PMID: 25690898
4.  diXa: a data infrastructure for chemical safety assessment 
Bioinformatics  2014;31(9):1505-1507.
Motivation: The field of toxicogenomics (the application of ‘-omics’ technologies to risk assessment of compound toxicities) has expanded in the last decade, partly driven by new legislation, aimed at reducing animal testing in chemical risk assessment but mainly as a result of a paradigm change in toxicology towards the use and integration of genome wide data. Many research groups worldwide have generated large amounts of such toxicogenomics data. However, there is no centralized repository for archiving and making these data and associated tools for their analysis easily available.
Results: The Data Infrastructure for Chemical Safety Assessment (diXa) is a robust and sustainable infrastructure storing toxicogenomics data. A central data warehouse is connected to a portal with links to chemical information and molecular and phenotype data. diXa is publicly available through a user-friendly web interface. New data can be readily deposited into diXa using guidelines and templates available online. Analysis descriptions and tools for interrogating the data are available via the diXa portal.
Availability and implementation:
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC4410652  PMID: 25505093
5.  A comprehensive study design reveals treatment- and transcript abundance–dependent concordance between RNA-seq and microarray data 
Nature biotechnology  2014;32(9):926-932.
RNA-seq facilitates unbiased genome-wide gene-expression profiling. However, its concordance with the well-established microarray platform must be rigorously assessed for confident uses in clinical and regulatory application. Here we use a comprehensive study design to generate Illumina RNA-seq and Affymetrix microarray data from the same set of liver samples of rats under varying degrees of perturbation by 27 chemicals representing multiple modes of action (MOA). The cross-platform concordance in terms of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) or enriched pathways is highly correlated with treatment effect size, gene-expression abundance and the biological complexity of the MOA. RNA-seq outperforms microarray (90% versus 76%) in DEG verification by quantitative PCR and the main gain is its improved accuracy for low expressed genes. Nonetheless, predictive classifiers derived from both platforms performed similarly. Therefore, the endpoint studied and its biological complexity, transcript abundance, and intended application are important factors in transcriptomic research and for decision-making.
PMCID: PMC4243706  PMID: 25150839
6.  Workshop report: Identifying opportunities for global integration of toxicogenomics databases, 26–27 June 2013, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA 
Archives of Toxicology  2014;88(12):2323-2332.
A joint US-EU workshop on enhancing data sharing and exchange in toxicogenomics was held at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. Currently, efficient reuse of data is hampered by problems related to public data availability, data quality, database interoperability (the ability to exchange information), standardization and sustainability. At the workshop, experts from universities and research institutes presented databases, studies, organizations and tools that attempt to deal with these problems. Furthermore, a case study showing that combining toxicogenomics data from multiple resources leads to more accurate predictions in risk assessment was presented. All participants agreed that there is a need for a web portal describing the diverse, heterogeneous data resources relevant for toxicogenomics research. Furthermore, there was agreement that linking more data resources would improve toxicogenomics data analysis. To outline a roadmap to enhance interoperability between data resources, the participants recommend collecting user stories from the toxicogenomics research community on barriers in data sharing and exchange currently hampering answering to certain research questions. These user stories may guide the prioritization of steps to be taken for enhancing integration of toxicogenomics databases.
PMCID: PMC4247478  PMID: 25326818
Databases; Data sharing; Hazard identification; Human; Omics technologies; Risk assessment
7.  Can Transcriptomics Provide Insight into the Chemopreventive Mechanisms of Complex Mixtures of Phytochemicals in Humans? 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2014;20(14):2107-2113.
Blueberries contain relatively large amounts of different phytochemicals, which are suggested to have chemopreventive properties, but little information is available on the underlying molecular modes of action. This study investigates whole genome gene expression changes in lymphocytes of 143 humans after a 4-week blueberry-apple juice dietary intervention. Differentially expressed genes and genes correlating with the extent of antioxidant protection were identified in four subgroups. The magnitude of the preventive effect after the intervention differed between these four subgroups. Furthermore, subjects in two groups carried genetic polymorphisms that were previously found to influence the chemopreventive response. Pathway analysis of the identified genes showed strong but complex gene expression changes in pathways signaling for apoptosis, immune response, cell adhesion, and lipid metabolism. These pathways indicate increased apoptosis, upgraded growth control, induced immunity, reduced platelet aggregation and activation, blood glucose homeostasis, and regulation of fatty acid metabolism. Based on these observations, we hypothesize that combining transcriptomic data with phenotypic markers of oxidative stress may provide insight into the relevant cellular processes and genetic pathways, which contribute to the antioxidant response of complex mixtures of phytochemicals, such as found in blueberry-apple juice. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 20, 2107–2113.
PMCID: PMC3994912  PMID: 24328558
8.  Screening for Drug-Induced Hepatotoxicity in Primary Mouse Hepatocytes Using Acetaminophen, Amiodarone, and Cyclosporin A as Model Compounds: An Omics-Guided Approach 
Drug-induced hepatotoxicity is a leading cause of attrition for candidate pharmaceuticals in development. New preclinical screening methods are crucial to predict drug toxicity prior to human studies. Of all in vitro hepatotoxicity models, primary human hepatocytes are considered as ‘the gold standard.’ However, their use is hindered by limited availability and inter-individual variation. These barriers may be overcome by using primary mouse hepatocytes. We used differential in gel electrophoresis (DIGE) to study large-scale protein expression of primary mouse hepatocytes. These hepatocytes were exposed to three well-defined hepatotoxicants: acetaminophen, amiodarone, and cyclosporin A. Each hepatotoxicant induces a different hepatotoxic phenotype. Based on the DIGE results, the mRNA expression levels of deregulated proteins from cyclosporin A-treated cells were also analyzed. We were able to distinguish cyclosporin A from controls, as well as acetaminophen and amiodarone-treated samples. Cyclosporin A induced endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and altered the ER-Golgi transport. Moreover, liver carboxylesterase and bile salt sulfotransferase were differentially expressed. These proteins were associated with a protective adaptive response against cyclosporin A-induced cholestasis. The results of this study are comparable with effects in HepG2 cells. Therefore, we suggest both models can be used to analyze the cholestatic properties of cyclosporin A. Furthermore, this study showed a conserved response between primary mouse hepatocytes and HepG2 cells. These findings collectively lend support for use of omics strategies in preclinical toxicology, and might inform future efforts to better link preclinical and clinical research in rational drug development.
PMCID: PMC3567623  PMID: 23308384
9.  Micronuclei in Cord Blood Lymphocytes and Associations with Biomarkers of Exposure to Carcinogens and Hormonally Active Factors, Gene Polymorphisms, and Gene Expression: The NewGeneris Cohort 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2013;122(2):193-200.
Background: Leukemia incidence has increased in recent decades among European children, suggesting that early-life environmental exposures play an important role in disease development.
Objectives: We investigated the hypothesis that childhood susceptibility may increase as a result of in utero exposure to carcinogens and hormonally acting factors. Using cord blood samples from the NewGeneris cohort, we examined associations between a range of biomarkers of carcinogen exposure and hormonally acting factors with micronuclei (MN) frequency as a proxy measure of cancer risk. Associations with gene expression and genotype were also explored.
Methods: DNA and protein adducts, gene expression profiles, circulating hormonally acting factors, and GWAS (genome-wide association study) data were investigated in relation to genomic damage measured by MN frequency in lymphocytes from 623 newborns enrolled between 2006 and 2010 across Europe.
Results: Malondialdehyde DNA adducts (M1dG) were associated with increased MN frequency in binucleated lymphocytes (MNBN), and exposure to androgenic, estrogenic, and dioxin-like compounds was associated with MN frequency in mononucleated lymphocytes (MNMONO), although no monotonic exposure–outcome relationship was observed. Lower frequencies of MNBN were associated with a 1-unit increase expression of PDCD11, LATS2, TRIM13, CD28, SMC1A, IL7R, and NIPBL genes. Gene expression was significantly higher in association with the highest versus lowest category of bulky and M1dG–DNA adducts for five and six genes, respectively. Gene expression levels were significantly lower for 11 genes in association with the highest versus lowest category of plasma AR CALUX® (chemically activated luciferase expression for androgens) (8 genes), ERα CALUX® (for estrogens) (2 genes), and DR CALUX® (for dioxins). Several SNPs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) on chromosome 11 near FOLH1 significantly modified associations between androgen activity and MNBN frequency. Polymorphisms in EPHX1/2 and CYP2E1 were associated with MNBN.
Conclusion: We measured in utero exposure to selected environmental carcinogens and circulating hormonally acting factors and detected associations with MN frequency in newborns circulating T lymphocytes. The results highlight mechanisms that may contribute to carcinogen-induced leukemia and require further research.
Citation: Merlo DF, Agramunt S, Anna L, Besselink H, Botsivali M, Brady NJ, Ceppi M, Chatzi L, Chen B, Decordier I, Farmer PB, Fleming S, Fontana V, Försti A, Fthenou E, Gallo F, Georgiadis P, Gmuender H, Godschalk RW, Granum B, Hardie LJ, Hemminki K, Hochstenbach K, Knudsen LE, Kogevinas M, Kovács K, Kyrtopoulos SA, Løvik M, Nielsen JK, Nygaard UC, Pedersen M, Rydberg P, Schoket B, Segerbäck D, Singh R, Sunyer J, Törnqvist M, van Loveren H, van Schooten FJ, Vande Loock K, von Stedingk H, Wright J, Kleinjans JC, Kirsch-Volders M, van Delft JHM, NewGeneris Consortium. 2014. Micronuclei in cord blood lymphocytes and associations with biomarkers of exposure to carcinogens and hormonally active factors, gene polymorphisms, and gene expression: The NewGeneris Cohort. Environ Health Perspect 122:193–200;
PMCID: PMC3914866  PMID: 24252472
10.  Free radical scavenging and formation by multi-walled carbon nanotubes in cell free conditions and in human bronchial epithelial cells 
Certain multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) have been shown to elicit asbestos-like toxicological effects. To reduce needs for risk assessment it has been suggested that the physicochemical characteristics or reactivity of nanomaterials could be used to predict their hazard. Fibre-shape and ability to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) are important indicators of high hazard materials. Asbestos is a known ROS generator, while MWCNTs may either produce or scavenge ROS. However, certain biomolecules, such as albumin – used as dispersants in nanomaterial preparation for toxicological testing in vivo and in vitro - may reduce the surface reactivity of nanomaterials.
Here, we investigated the effect of bovine serum albumin (BSA) and cell culture medium with and without BEAS 2B cells on radical formation/scavenging by five MWCNTs, Printex 90 carbon black, crocidolite asbestos, and glass wool, using electron spin resonance (ESR) spectroscopy and linked this to cytotoxic effects measured by trypan blue exclusion assay. In addition, the materials were characterized in the exposure medium (e.g. for hydrodynamic size-distribution and sedimentation rate).
The test materials induced highly variable cytotoxic effects which could generally be related to the abundance and characteristics of agglomerates/aggregates and to the rate of sedimentation. All carbon nanomaterials were found to scavenge hydroxyl radicals (•OH) in at least one of the solutions tested. The effect of BSA was different among the materials. Two types of long, needle-like MWCNTs (average diameter >74 and 64.2 nm, average length 5.7 and 4.0 μm, respectively) induced, in addition to a scavenging effect, a dose-dependent formation of a unique, yet unidentified radical in both absence and presence of cells, which also coincided with cytotoxicity.
Culture medium and BSA affects scavenging/production of •OH by MWCNTs, Printex 90 carbon black, asbestos and glass-wool. An unidentified radical is generated by two long, needle-like MWCNTs and these two CNTs were more cytotoxic than the other CNTs tested, suggesting that this radical could be related to the adverse effects of MWCNTs.
PMCID: PMC3933237  PMID: 24438343
Asbestos; Electron Spin Resonance; Free radicals; Glass wool; Human bronchial epithelial cells; Multi-walled carbon nanotubes
11.  Bulky DNA Adducts in Cord Blood, Maternal Fruit-and-Vegetable Consumption, and Birth Weight in a European Mother–Child Study (NewGeneris) 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2013;121(10):1200-1206.
Background: Tobacco-smoke, airborne, and dietary exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have been associated with reduced prenatal growth. Evidence from biomarker-based studies of low-exposed populations is limited. Bulky DNA adducts in cord blood reflect the prenatal effective dose to several genotoxic agents including PAHs.
Objectives: We estimated the association between bulky DNA adduct levels and birth weight in a multicenter study and examined modification of this association by maternal intake of fruits and vegetables during pregnancy.
Methods: Pregnant women from Denmark, England, Greece, Norway, and Spain were recruited in 2006–2010. Adduct levels were measured by the 32P-postlabeling technique in white blood cells from 229 mothers and 612 newborns. Maternal diet was examined through questionnaires.
Results: Adduct levels in maternal and cord blood samples were similar and positively correlated (median, 12.1 vs. 11.4 adducts in 108 nucleotides; Spearman rank correlation coefficient = 0.66, p < 0.001). Cord blood adduct levels were negatively associated with birth weight, with an estimated difference in mean birth weight of –129 g (95% CI: –233, –25 g) for infants in the highest versus lowest tertile of adducts. The negative association with birth weight was limited to births in Norway, Denmark, and England, the countries with the lowest adduct levels, and was more pronounced in births to mothers with low intake of fruits and vegetables (–248 g; 95% CI: –405, –92 g) compared with those with high intake (–58 g; 95% CI: –206, 90 g)
Conclusions: Maternal exposure to genotoxic agents that induce the formation of bulky DNA adducts may affect intrauterine growth. Maternal fruit and vegetable consumption may be protective.
Citation: Pedersen M, Schoket B, Godschalk RW, Wright J, von Stedingk H, Törnqvist M, Sunyer J, Nielsen JK, Merlo DF, Mendez MA, Meltzer HM, Lukács V, Landström A, Kyrtopoulos SA, Kovács K, Knudsen LE, Haugen M, Hardie LJ, Gützkow KB, Fleming S, Fthenou E, Farmer PB, Espinosa A, Chatzi L, Brunborg G, Brady NJ, Botsivali M, Arab K, Anna L, Alexander J, Agramunt S, Kleinjans JC, Segerbäck D, Kogevinas M. 2013. Bulky DNA adducts in cord blood, maternal fruit-and-vegetable consumption, and birth weight in a European mother–child study (NewGeneris). Environ Health Perspect 121:1200–1206;
PMCID: PMC3801201  PMID: 23906905
12.  DTW4Omics: Comparing Patterns in Biological Time Series 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71823.
When studying time courses of biological measurements and comparing these to other measurements eg. gene expression and phenotypic endpoints, the analysis is complicated by the fact that although the associated elements may show the same patterns of behaviour, the changes do not occur simultaneously. In these cases standard correlation-based measures of similarity will fail to find significant associations. Dynamic time warping (DTW) is a technique which can be used in these situations to find the optimal match between two time courses, which may then be assessed for its significance. We implement DTW4Omics, a tool for performing DTW in R. This tool extends existing R scripts for DTW making them applicable for “omics” datasets where thousands entities may need to be compared with a range of markers and endpoints. It includes facilities to estimate the significance of the matches between the supplied data, and provides a set of plots to enable the user to easily visualise the output. We illustrate the utility of this approach using a dataset linking the exposure of the colon carcinoma Caco-2 cell line to oxidative stress by hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and menadione across 9 timepoints and show that on average 85% of the genes found are not obtained from a standard correlation analysis between the genes and the measured phenotypic endpoints. We then show that when we analyse the genes identified by DTW4Omics as significantly associated with a marker for oxidative DNA damage (8-oxodG), through over-representation, an Oxidative Stress pathway is identified as the most over-represented pathway demonstrating that the genes found by DTW4Omics are biologically relevant. In contrast, when the positively correlated genes were similarly analysed, no pathways were found. The tool is implemented as an R Package and is available, along with a user guide from
PMCID: PMC3748037  PMID: 23977154
13.  Performance in Omics Analyses of Blood Samples in Long-Term Storage: Opportunities for the Exploitation of Existing Biobanks in Environmental Health Research 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2013;121(4):480-487.
Background: The suitability for omic analysis of biosamples collected in previous decades and currently stored in biobanks is unknown.
Objectives: We evaluated the influence of handling and storage conditions of blood-derived biosamples on transcriptomic, epigenomic (CpG methylation), plasma metabolomic [UPLC-ToFMS (ultra performance liquid chromatography–time-of-flight mass spectrometry)], and wide-target proteomic profiles.
Methods: We collected fresh blood samples without RNA preservative in heparin, EDTA, or citrate and held them at room temperature for ≤ 24 hr before fractionating them into buffy coat, erythrocytes, and plasma and freezing the fractions at –80oC or in liquid nitrogen. We developed methodology for isolating RNA from the buffy coats and conducted omic analyses. Finally, we analyzed analogous samples from the EPIC-Italy and Northern Sweden Health and Disease Study biobanks.
Results: Microarray-quality RNA could be isolated from buffy coats (including most biobank samples) that had been frozen within 8 hr of blood collection by thawing the samples in RNA preservative. Different anticoagulants influenced the metabolomic, proteomic, and to a lesser extent transcriptomic profiles. Transcriptomic profiles were most affected by the delay (as little as 2 hr) before blood fractionation, whereas storage temperature had minimal impact. Effects on metabolomic and proteomic profiles were noted in samples processed ≥ 8 hr after collection, but no effects were due to storage temperature. None of the variables examined significantly influenced the epigenomic profiles. No systematic influence of time-in-storage was observed in samples stored over a period of 13–17 years.
Conclusions: Most samples currently stored in biobanks are amenable to meaningful omics analysis, provided that they satisfy collection and storage criteria defined in this study.
PMCID: PMC3620742  PMID: 23384616
biomarkers; epigenomics; metabolomics; metabonomics; molecular epidemiology; proteomics; transcriptomics
14.  Next-generation text-mining mediated generation of chemical response-specific gene sets for interpretation of gene expression data 
Availability of chemical response-specific lists of genes (gene sets) for pharmacological and/or toxic effect prediction for compounds is limited. We hypothesize that more gene sets can be created by next-generation text mining (next-gen TM), and that these can be used with gene set analysis (GSA) methods for chemical treatment identification, for pharmacological mechanism elucidation, and for comparing compound toxicity profiles.
We created 30,211 chemical response-specific gene sets for human and mouse by next-gen TM, and derived 1,189 (human) and 588 (mouse) gene sets from the Comparative Toxicogenomics Database (CTD). We tested for significant differential expression (SDE) (false discovery rate -corrected p-values < 0.05) of the next-gen TM-derived gene sets and the CTD-derived gene sets in gene expression (GE) data sets of five chemicals (from experimental models). We tested for SDE of gene sets for six fibrates in a peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARA) knock-out GE dataset and compared to results from the Connectivity Map. We tested for SDE of 319 next-gen TM-derived gene sets for environmental toxicants in three GE data sets of triazoles, and tested for SDE of 442 gene sets associated with embryonic structures. We compared the gene sets to triazole effects seen in the Whole Embryo Culture (WEC), and used principal component analysis (PCA) to discriminate triazoles from other chemicals.
Next-gen TM-derived gene sets matching the chemical treatment were significantly altered in three GE data sets, and the corresponding CTD-derived gene sets were significantly altered in five GE data sets. Six next-gen TM-derived and four CTD-derived fibrate gene sets were significantly altered in the PPARA knock-out GE dataset. None of the fibrate signatures in cMap scored significant against the PPARA GE signature. 33 environmental toxicant gene sets were significantly altered in the triazole GE data sets. 21 of these toxicants had a similar toxicity pattern as the triazoles. We confirmed embryotoxic effects, and discriminated triazoles from other chemicals.
Gene set analysis with next-gen TM-derived chemical response-specific gene sets is a scalable method for identifying similarities in gene responses to other chemicals, from which one may infer potential mode of action and/or toxic effect.
PMCID: PMC3572439  PMID: 23356878
Text mining; Toxicogenomics; Gene set analysis
15.  Birth Weight, Head Circumference, and Prenatal Exposure to Acrylamide from Maternal Diet: The European Prospective Mother–Child Study (NewGeneris) 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2012;120(12):1739-1745.
Background: Acrylamide is a common dietary exposure that crosses the human placenta. It is classified as a probable human carcinogen, and developmental toxicity has been observed in rodents.
Objectives: We examined the associations between prenatal exposure to acrylamide and birth outcomes in a prospective European mother–child study.
Methods: Hemoglobin (Hb) adducts of acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide were measured in cord blood (reflecting cumulated exposure in the last months of pregnancy) from 1,101 singleton pregnant women recruited in Denmark, England, Greece, Norway, and Spain during 2006–2010. Maternal diet was estimated through food-frequency questionnaires.
Results: Both acrylamide and glycidamide Hb adducts were associated with a statistically significant reduction in birth weight and head circumference. The estimated difference in birth weight for infants in the highest versus lowest quartile of acrylamide Hb adduct levels after adjusting for gestational age and country was –132 g (95% CI: –207, –56); the corresponding difference for head circumference was –0.33 cm (95% CI: –0.61, –0.06). Findings were similar in infants of nonsmokers, were consistent across countries, and remained after adjustment for factors associated with reduced birth weight. Maternal consumption of foods rich in acrylamide, such as fried potatoes, was associated with cord blood acrylamide adduct levels and with reduced birth weight.
Conclusions: Dietary exposure to acrylamide was associated with reduced birth weight and head circumference. Consumption of specific foods during pregnancy was associated with higher acrylamide exposure in utero. If confirmed, these findings suggest that dietary intake of acrylamide should be reduced among pregnant women.
PMCID: PMC3548277  PMID: 23092936
biomarker; children; diet; intrauterine growth restriction; in utero exposure
16.  Toward interoperable bioscience data 
Nature genetics  2012;44(2):121-126.
To make full use of research data, the bioscience community needs to adopt technologies and reward mechanisms that support interoperability and promote the growth of an open ‘data commoning’ culture. Here we describe the prerequisites for data commoning and present an established and growing ecosystem of solutions using the shared ‘Investigation-Study-Assay’ framework to support that vision.
PMCID: PMC3428019  PMID: 22281772
17.  Prevalence of at-risk genotypes for genotoxic effects decreases with age in a randomly selected population in Flanders: a cross sectional study 
Environmental Health  2011;10:85.
We hypothesized that in Flanders (Belgium), the prevalence of at-risk genotypes for genotoxic effects decreases with age due to morbidity and mortality resulting from chronic diseases. Rather than polymorphisms in single genes, the interaction of multiple genetic polymorphisms in low penetrance genes involved in genotoxic effects might be of relevance.
Genotyping was performed on 399 randomly selected adults (aged 50-65) and on 442 randomly selected adolescents. Based on their involvement in processes relevant to genotoxicity, 28 low penetrance polymorphisms affecting the phenotype in 19 genes were selected (xenobiotic metabolism, oxidative stress defense and DNA repair, respectively 13, 6 and 9 polymorphisms). Polymorphisms which, based on available literature, could not clearly be categorized a priori as leading to an 'increased risk' or a 'protective effect' were excluded.
The mean number of risk alleles for all investigated polymorphisms was found to be lower in the 'elderly' (17.0 ± 2.9) than the 'adolescent' (17.6 ± 3.1) subpopulation (P = 0.002). These results were not affected by gender nor smoking. The prevalence of a high (> 17 = median) number of risk alleles was less frequent in the 'elderly' (40.6%) than the 'adolescent' (51.4%) subpopulation (P = 0.002). In particular for phase II enzymes, the mean number of risk alleles was lower in the 'elderly' (4.3 ± 1.6 ) than the 'adolescent' age group (4.8 ± 1.9) P < 0.001 and the prevalence of a high (> 4 = median) number of risk alleles was less frequent in the 'elderly' (41.3%) than the adolescent subpopulation (56.3%, P < 0.001). The prevalence of a high (> 8 = median) number of risk alleles for DNA repair enzyme-coding genes was lower in the 'elderly' (37,3%) than the 'adolescent' subpopulation (45.6%, P = 0.017).
These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that, in Flanders, the prevalence of at-risk alleles in genes involved in genotoxic effects decreases with age, suggesting that persons carrying a higher number of at risk alleles (especially in phase II xenobiotic-metabolizing or DNA repair genes) are at a higher risk of morbidity and mortality from chronic diseases. Our findings also suggest that, regarding risk of disease associated with low penetrance polymorphisms, multiple polymorphisms should be taken into account, rather than single ones.
PMCID: PMC3195704  PMID: 21975123
18.  Maternal and Gestational Factors and Micronucleus Frequencies in Umbilical Blood: The NewGeneris Rhea Cohort in Crete 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2011;119(10):1460-1465.
Background: The use of cancer-related biomarkers in newborns has been very limited.
Objective: We investigated the formation of micronuclei (MN) in full-term and preterm newborns and their mothers from the Rhea cohort (Crete), applying for the first time in cord blood a validated semiautomated analysis system, in both mono- and binucleated T lymphocytes.
Methods: We assessed MN frequencies in peripheral blood samples from the mothers and in umbilical cord blood samples. We calculated MN in mononucleated (MNMONO) and binucleated (MNBN) T lymphocytes and the cytokinesis block proliferation index (CBPI) in 251 newborns (224 full term) and 223 mothers, including 182 mother–child pairs. Demographic and lifestyle characteristics were collected.
Results: We observed significantly higher MNBN and CBPI levels in mothers than in newborns. In newborns, MNMONO and MNBN were correlated (r = 0.35, p < 0.001), and we found a moderate correlation between MNMONO in mothers and newborns (r = 0.26, p < 0.001). MNMONO frequencies in newborns were positively associated with the mother’s body mass index and inversely associated with gestational age and mother’s age, but we found no significant predictors of MNBN or CBPI in newborns.
Conclusions: Although confirmation is needed by a larger study population, the results indicate the importance of taking into account both mono- and binucleated T lymphocytes for biomonitoring of newborns, because the first reflects damage expressed during in vivo cell division and accumulated in utero, and the latter includes additional damage expressed as MN during the in vitro culture step.
PMCID: PMC3230441  PMID: 21622084
folate; gestational age; micronuclei; mononucleated cells; newborns; vitamin B12
19.  Integrating transcriptomics and metabonomics to unravel modes-of-action of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in HepG2 cells 
BMC Systems Biology  2011;5:139.
The integration of different 'omics' technologies has already been shown in several in vivo studies to offer a complementary insight into cellular responses to toxic challenges. Being interested in developing in vitro cellular models as alternative to animal-based toxicity assays, we hypothesize that combining transcriptomics and metabonomics data improves the understanding of molecular mechanisms underlying the effects caused by a toxic compound also in vitro in human cells. To test this hypothesis, and with the focus on non-genotoxic carcinogenesis as an endpoint of toxicity, in the present study, the human hepatocarcinoma cell line HepG2 was exposed to the well-known environmental carcinogen 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD).
Transcriptomics as well as metabonomics analyses demonstrated changes in TCDD-exposed HepG2 in common metabolic processes, e.g. amino acid metabolism, of which some of the changes only being confirmed if both 'omics' were integrated. In particular, this integrated analysis identified unique pathway maps involved in receptor-mediated mechanisms, such as the G-protein coupled receptor protein (GPCR) signaling pathway maps, in which the significantly up-regulated gene son of sevenless 1 (SOS1) seems to play an important role. SOS1 is an activator of several members of the RAS superfamily, a group of small GTPases known for their role in carcinogenesis.
The results presented here were not only comparable with other in vitro studies but also with in vivo studies. Moreover, new insights on the molecular responses caused by TCDD exposure were gained by the cross-omics analysis.
PMCID: PMC3231768  PMID: 21880148
20.  Human Embryonic Stem Cell Derived Hepatocyte-Like Cells as a Tool for In Vitro Hazard Assessment of Chemical Carcinogenicity 
Toxicological Sciences  2011;124(2):278-290.
Hepatocyte-like cells derived from the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells (hES-Hep) have potential to provide a human relevant in vitro test system in which to evaluate the carcinogenic hazard of chemicals. In this study, we have investigated this potential using a panel of 15 chemicals classified as noncarcinogens, genotoxic carcinogens, and nongenotoxic carcinogens and measured whole-genome transcriptome responses with gene expression microarrays. We applied an ANOVA model that identified 592 genes highly discriminative for the panel of chemicals. Supervised classification with these genes achieved a cross-validation accuracy of > 95%. Moreover, the expression of the response genes in hES-Hep was strongly correlated with that in human primary hepatocytes cultured in vitro. In order to infer mechanistic information on the consequences of chemical exposure in hES-Hep, we developed a computational method that measures the responses of biochemical pathways to the panel of treatments and showed that these responses were discriminative for the three toxicity classes and linked to carcinogenesis through p53, mitogen-activated protein kinases, and apoptosis pathway modules. It could further be shown that the discrimination of toxicity classes was improved when analyzing the microarray data at the pathway level. In summary, our results demonstrate, for the first time, the potential of human embryonic stem cell--derived hepatic cells as an in vitro model for hazard assessment of chemical carcinogenesis, although it should be noted that more compounds are needed to test the robustness of the assay.
PMCID: PMC3216410  PMID: 21873647
carcinogenicity; systems toxicology; risk assessment; toxicogenomics; computational biology
21.  Moving Forward in Human Cancer Risk Assessment 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2010;119(6):739-743.
The current safety paradigm for assessing carcinogenic properties of drugs, cosmetics, industrial chemicals, and environmental exposures relies mainly on in vitro genotoxicity testing followed by 2-year rodent bioassays. This testing battery is extremely sensitive but has low specificity. Furthermore, rodent bioassays are associated with high costs, high animal burden, and limited predictive value for human risks.
We provide a response to a growing appeal for a paradigm change in human cancer risk assessment.
To facilitate development of a road map for this needed paradigm change in carcinogenicity testing, a workshop titled “Genomics in Cancer Risk Assessment” brought together toxicologists from academia and industry and government regulators and risk assessors from the United States and the European Union. Participants discussed the state-of-the-art in developing alternative testing strategies for carcinogenicity, with emphasis on potential contributions from omics technologies.
Results and Conclusions
The goal of human risk assessment is to decide whether a given exposure to an agent is acceptable to human health and to provide risk management measures based on evaluating and predicting the effects of exposures on human health. Although exciting progress is being made using genomics approaches, a new paradigm that uses these methods and human material when possible would provide mechanistic insights that may inform new predictive approaches (e.g., in vitro assays) and facilitate the development of genomics-derived biomarkers. Regulators appear to be willing to accept such approaches where use is clearly defined, evidence is strong, and approaches are qualified for regulatory use.
PMCID: PMC3114805  PMID: 21147607
cancer; human; omics technologies; risk assessment; systems biology
22.  An untargeted multi-technique metabolomics approach to studying intracellular metabolites of HepG2 cells exposed to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:251.
In vitro cell systems together with omics methods represent promising alternatives to conventional animal models for toxicity testing. Transcriptomic and proteomic approaches have been widely applied in vitro but relatively few studies have used metabolomics. Therefore, the goal of the present study was to develop an untargeted methodology for performing reproducible metabolomics on in vitro systems. The human liver cell line HepG2, and the well-known hepatotoxic and non-genotoxic carcinogen 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), were used as the in vitro model system and model toxicant, respectively.
The study focused on the analysis of intracellular metabolites using NMR, LC-MS and GC-MS, with emphasis on the reproducibility and repeatability of the data. State of the art pre-processing and alignment tools and multivariate statistics were used to detect significantly altered levels of metabolites after exposing HepG2 cells to TCDD. Several metabolites identified using databases, literature and LC-nanomate-Orbitrap analysis were affected by the treatment. The observed changes in metabolite levels are discussed in relation to the reported effects of TCDD.
Untargeted profiling of the polar and apolar metabolites of in vitro cultured HepG2 cells is a valid approach to studying the effects of TCDD on the cell metabolome. The approach described in this research demonstrates that highly reproducible experiments and correct normalization of the datasets are essential for obtaining reliable results. The effects of TCDD on HepG2 cells reported herein are in agreement with previous studies and serve to validate the procedures used in the present work.
PMCID: PMC3141663  PMID: 21599895
24.  Automatic vs. manual curation of a multi-source chemical dictionary: the impact on text mining 
Previously, we developed a combined dictionary dubbed Chemlist for the identification of small molecules and drugs in text based on a number of publicly available databases and tested it on an annotated corpus. To achieve an acceptable recall and precision we used a number of automatic and semi-automatic processing steps together with disambiguation rules. However, it remained to be investigated which impact an extensive manual curation of a multi-source chemical dictionary would have on chemical term identification in text. ChemSpider is a chemical database that has undergone extensive manual curation aimed at establishing valid chemical name-to-structure relationships.
We acquired the component of ChemSpider containing only manually curated names and synonyms. Rule-based term filtering, semi-automatic manual curation, and disambiguation rules were applied. We tested the dictionary from ChemSpider on an annotated corpus and compared the results with those for the Chemlist dictionary. The ChemSpider dictionary of ca. 80 k names was only a 1/3 to a 1/4 the size of Chemlist at around 300 k. The ChemSpider dictionary had a precision of 0.43 and a recall of 0.19 before the application of filtering and disambiguation and a precision of 0.87 and a recall of 0.19 after filtering and disambiguation. The Chemlist dictionary had a precision of 0.20 and a recall of 0.47 before the application of filtering and disambiguation and a precision of 0.67 and a recall of 0.40 after filtering and disambiguation.
We conclude the following: (1) The ChemSpider dictionary achieved the best precision but the Chemlist dictionary had a higher recall and the best F-score; (2) Rule-based filtering and disambiguation is necessary to achieve a high precision for both the automatically generated and the manually curated dictionary. ChemSpider is available as a web service at and the Chemlist dictionary is freely available as an XML file in Simple Knowledge Organization System format on the web at
PMCID: PMC2848622  PMID: 20331846
25.  Transcriptome Analysis in Peripheral Blood of Humans Exposed to Environmental Carcinogens: A Promising New Biomarker in Environmental Health Studies 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2008;116(11):1519-1525.
Human carcinogenesis is known to be initiated and/or promoted by exposure to chemicals that occur in the environment. Molecular cancer epidemiology is used to identify human environmental cancer risks by applying a range of effect biomarkers, which tend to be nonspecific and do not generate insights into underlying modes of action. Toxicogenomic technologies may improve on this by providing the opportunity to identify molecular biomarkers consisting of altered gene expression profiles.
The aim of the present study was to monitor the expression of selected genes in a random sample of adults in Flanders selected from specific regions with (presumably) different environmental burdens. Furthermore, associations of gene expression with blood and urinary measures of biomarkers of exposure, early phenotypic effects, and tumor markers were investigated.
Individual gene expression of cytochrome p450 1B1, activating transcription factor 4, mitogen-activated protein kinase 14, superoxide dismutase 2 (Mn), chemokine (C-X-C motif) lig-and 1 (melanoma growth stimulating activity, alpha), diacylglycerol O-acyltransferase homolog 2 (mouse), tigger transposable element derived 3, and PTEN-induced putative kinase1 were measured by means of quantitative polymerase chain reaction in peripheral blood cells of 398 individuals. After correction for the confounding effect of tobacco smoking, inhabitants of the Olen region showed the highest differences in gene expression levels compared with inhabitants from the Gent and fruit cultivation regions. Importantly, we observed multiple significant correlations of particular gene expressions with blood and urinary measures of various environmental carcinogens.
Considering the observed significant differences between gene expression levels in inhabitants of various regions in Flanders and the associations of gene expression with blood or urinary measures of environmental carcinogens, we conclude that gene expression profiling appears promising as a tool for biological monitoring in relation to environmental exposures in humans.
PMCID: PMC2592272  PMID: 19057705
biomarker; biomonitoring; environmental carcinogens; human blood; transcriptomics

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