Risk-based prioritization of PFAS using phenotypic and transcriptomic data from human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived hepatocytes and cardiomyocytes

Main Article Content

Han-Hsuan D. Tsai, Lucie C. Ford, Zunwei Chen, Allison N. Dickey, Fred A. Wright, Ivan Rusyn
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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals with important applications; they are persistent in the environment and may pose human health hazards. Regulatory agencies are considering restrictions and bans of PFAS; however, little data exists for informed decisions. Several prioritization strategies were proposed for evaluation of potential hazards of PFAS. Structure-based grouping could expedite the selection of PFAS for testing; still, the hypothesis that structure-effect relationships exist for PFAS requires confirmation. We tested 26 structurally diverse PFAS from 8 groups using human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived hepatocytes and cardiomyocytes, and tested concentration-response effects on cell function and gene expression. Few phenotypic effects were observed in hepatocytes, but negative chronotropy was observed for 8 of the 26 PFAS. Substance- and cell type-dependent transcriptomic changes were more prominent but lacked substantial group-specific effects. In hepatocytes, we found up-regulation of stress-related and extracellular matrix organization pathways, and down-regulation of fat metabolism. In cardiomyocytes, contractility-related pathways were most affected. We derived phenotypic and transcriptomic points of departure and compared them to predicted PFAS exposures. The conservative estimates for bioactivity and exposure were used to derive bioactivity-to-exposure ratio (BER) for each PFAS, most (23 of 26) PFAS had BER>1. Overall, these data suggests that structure-based grouping of PFAS may not be sufficient to predict their biological effects. Testing of individual PFAS may be needed for scientific-based decision-making. Our proposed strategy of using two human cell types and considering phenotypic and transcriptomic effects, combined with dose-response analysis and calculation of BER, may be used for PFAS prioritization.

Plain language summary
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals used in many products. However, most of these substances have not been tested for safety, and concerns exist that they may be harmful to human health and/or the environment. This study aimed to use human cell-based models to investigate if some of the PFAS may exhibit hazardous properties and if similarities among substances are observed. Few effects were observed in liver cells, but a decrease in beating frequency was observed in heart cells for some PFAS. Gene expression changes were substance- and cell type-dependent. We did not find convincing structure-based similarities among PFAS; this suggests that testing of individual PFAS may be necessary in the future to inform health decisions. Overall, this study showed that a test strategy of using two human cell types, from liver and heart, may inform PFAS prioritization without a need for testing in animals.

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Tsai, H.-H. D. (2024) “Risk-based prioritization of PFAS using phenotypic and transcriptomic data from human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived hepatocytes and cardiomyocytes”, ALTEX - Alternatives to animal experimentation. doi: 10.14573/altex.2311031.

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